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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


Judy Jones, their mother, doesn't often watch her sons race--in part because of the unusual circumstances she has witnessed.

"The first time I saw them in the same race, they were in karts and someone hit P.J. and he landed on top of Page," she said.

At the 1990 Pacific Coast Nationals at Ascot Park, Judy was in the stands when P.J. bumped Jordan Hermansader in Turn 3 and the youngster from Palos Verdes Estates wound up flipping down the front straightaway. An unruly crowd, rooting against the Jones brothers beforehand, almost got out of hand when P.J. took the checkered flag.

"I couldn't believe all the booing and jeering," Judy said. "It didn't seem like anyone there was for P.J."

A few weeks later, when P.J. and Page were racing in the Turkey Night Grand Prix--Ascot's final event--Judy bought a block of tickets for friends and relatives.

"I wanted to make sure the boys had their own rooting section," she said. They almost had a winner. P.J. led the first 50 laps before losing to lead to eventual winner Stan Fox.

Rooting against the Jones boys has been a way of life at Southern California tracks since P.J. and veteran Sleepy Tripp, a cult hero of sorts among local midget race followers, became embroiled in a series of bumping incidents three seasons ago.

"It got so bad that the fans cheered when Sleepy put me on my head," P.J. said.

After one rather obvious incident at Saugus in May 1989, when P.J. rammed Tripp in full view of everyone, the youthful Jones was suspended for 30 days.

"Tripp hit me twice. He put me in the fence, so I hit him once and he comes back and puts me upside down," P.J. said. "When he came back around, I hit him good. I know I deserved to be suspended for what I did, but I don't understand how Sleepy got off scot-free. He started it. He was trying to intimidate me, but I got 30 days and he got nothing.

"West Coast fans have always been against us. I guess they think Page and I have had everything given to us, but that's not the way Dad's done it. They seem to think that all we do is show up, helmets in hand, and climb into our car.

"Sure, we get some breaks because of who we are, but Page and I are often here (in the Torrance racing shop) until 3 a.m., working on the car, welding, fabricating, doing a lot of the work. We spend more time here than we do at home (in Rolling Hills)."

Parnelli said that he was angry at Tripp during the height of the feud.

"I wanted to grab a helmet and climb in a midget myself and take him on," he said.

But he cooled down and says now that it was not Tripp's fault so much as the USAC officials'.

"Sleepy's an old-timer who knows all the little tricks you learn on a race track, especially pay-backs," Parnelli said. "P.J. came out there, right out of high school, and presented a challenge to him. Sleepy decided to give him a lesson in bullying, and P.J. wouldn't back down. If the officials had stepped in early, probably nothing more would have happened. But the more they let things go, the rougher it got."

Page, who was not yet racing midgets, stirred the pot when he showed up at a race with a picture of Tripp surrounded by a red circle with a red slash across his face.

"It's funny, when we race in the Midwest or anywhere outside of Southern California, we're the good guys and everyone cheers us," P.J. said. "It was the same way when Rich Vogler was racing. Around home in Indiana, he was the bad guy, but when he came out to Ascot he got the loudest cheers."

The feud seemed to have simmered down last season. Some say it was because P.J. became a more sophisticated driver, tempering his aggressive tactics with smoother techniques. Others say it was Tripp who calmed down once he realized that the new kids on the block weren't going to be intimidated.

"Little Rufus (P.J.) and his little brother are tough as nails on the track," Tripp said last season. "They're both going to be fine race drivers, but they've got to realize that this is a tough business."

Even though they are called "little" because they are Parnelli's sons, they are not little. P.J., the taller of the two, who bears a startling facial resemblance to his father, weighs 185 pounds. Page, built more like a block of granite, in the image of Parnelli, weighs 190 and is still growing.

"Maybe our size will work against us in Indy cars or Formula One," P.J. said. "It's easier to get in a big ol' stock car when you're up around 200 pounds. If I ever had the opportunity to drive a Formula One, I'd jump at it, but most of those drivers are the size of jockeys."

The brothers already have international experience.

Page, when he was 16, raced go-karts in the Soviet Union and won one event in a Soviet vs. U.S.A. series.

"I had been racing indoors in Chicago when the Soviets invited a team over to race on the Bikerniek circuit in Riga, the capital of Latvia," Page recalled. "I was the youngest member. I'm always the youngest in whatever I'm doing, it seems. Only two Americans won and I was one of them.

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