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All in the Family : P.J. and Page Jones May Have Inherited a Genetic Advantage in Racing From Their Dad, Parnelli

December 26, 1991|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By the time Parnelli Jones' sons, P.J. and Page, get to the Indianapolis 500--as they probably will--they won't lack for experience.

P.J., 22, and Page, 19, already have been pegged as two of the most talented and versatile young racers in the country.

Perhaps the only reason they may not get to Indy is that they may be in the Daytona 500 first.

"Dad is pushing NASCAR because he says there are more opportunities in stock cars," P.J. Jones said. "But I think if Page or I had our choice, we'd be at Indy."

Parnelli did both. He won the Indy 500 in 1963 and almost won it three other times. In stock cars, he was a consistent winner on the old United States Auto Club circuit and won four Winston Cup races--then called Grand Nationals--one of them at Riverside in 1967.

"What we really want most, though, is just a chance to race," Page added."

Toward that end, they have been driving just about anything on wheels. This year, P.J. races in four series, Page in five.

P.J. drove USAC midgets on dirt and pavement, a Toyota MR2 in the Firestone Firehawk series, a Toyota GTP car at the Daytona 24-Hour race and a Buick-powered Wildcat in Indy Lights, a training series for Indy car hopefuls.

He also drove in an ice race in

Anchorage, Alaska, and a stock car race--the Reid Rondell enduro--last month at Saugus Speedway.

"I ran nose-to-tail with my dad for 50 laps at Saugus before I spun out," P.J. said.

P.J.'s performances, mainly in the Firehawk series, where he had four victories and sat on the pole six times in 10 races, earned him a full-time ride next year with Dan Gurney's Toyota GTP team as a teammate of Juan Fangio II in the International Motor Sports Assn. Camel GT series.

"I've been watching P.J. the last couple of years, and I like what I've seen," Gurney said. "One thing for sure, he has the genes for it, just like Michael (Andretti) and Little Al (Unser). Or Juan."

Juan Fangio II is the nephew of the five-time world champion from Argentina of the same name. Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr., the two most recent PPG Cup Indy car champions, are sons of former champions.

Page was one of the winningest drivers in USAC midgets on the West Coast in 1991 and also drove a turbocharged open-wheel Mondaile in the Barber Saab Pro series, a Ford Ranger in the Sports Car Club of America's Truck Guard Challenge and a Wildcat in Indy Lights.

Next season, Page will return to the Barber Saab and USAC midget circuits and also will run in a few Indy Lights races. He had planned to run the Firehawk series again, but budget restraints prompted Toyota to withdraw its sponsorship, leaving Jones and former hydroplane champion Chip Hanauer without rides.

The younger Jones twice made USAC history this year. On July 4 at Cajon Speedway, he became the first driver to win a midget/three-quarter midget doubleheader on the same night, racing on asphalt. On Nov. 16 he repeated the feat at Ventura Raceway, the first time anyone had done it on dirt. Page Jones has won 11 USAC midget races in the last two seasons and had a streak of six in a row last summer.

Their most memorable race might have been Nov. 23 at Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale, where the brothers traded the lead five times before Page passed P.J. on the 39th lap and won the 40-lap main event.

"Dad must have been jumping up and down like a pushrod, worrying if we'd take each other out," Page said, laughing. "He told us that if we ever took each other out we'd be the laughingstock of the whole place, that people would know we're idiots."

P.J. started in the front row with Page back in 12th position, but Page moved into contention after a spin took out several leaders and brought out a yellow flag. On the restart, Page shot into the lead and held it for seven laps before P.J. made an inside pass on the backstretch.

"I got it back a lap or so later when P.J. went high in Turn 4, but two laps from the end, P.J. ran up alongside me and we raced a whole lap side by side," Page said. "He managed to squeeze by me, but I returned the favor on the next lap and got the checkered (flag)."

Parnelli Jones, 58, keeps a close tab on his boys, going to nearly every midget race and as many others as he can make. Next year, however, Parnelli will miss some races because he will be back driving a Ford Ranger for Bill Stroppe in desert off-road races. Jones is replacing veteran Manny Esquerra as the factory-team driver.

"To tell you the truth, we've been pushing him to get back in a car so it will take his mind off us," P.J. said. "We sort of talked him into driving again. When he's at our races, he wants everything done the way it was done when he was racing, and he doesn't realize how much things have changed. He used to climb out and fix things himself, but nowadays you don't do that. You consult with engineers before you make changes. He's too impatient for that."

Page added: "He doesn't even wait until we get our helmet off. I have to tell him, 'Dad, slow down.' "

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