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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

"We had seven races, all on the same course, a beautiful road circuit in a park. It was where the Russians trained. They were like Olympic athletes. They were paid to drive and that's all they did. And all their training was on that track, so it was tough on us, but we were there two weeks and I got to visit Moscow. It was great fun."

P.J. drove midgets in New Zealand on several occasions. He won a 30-lap main event in Auckland that was billed as being for the "world's championship," and he won two out of three in 1988 in a series that included such American stars as Fox and Gary Schroeder.

For a time, it appeared that P.J. might be a budding hockey star instead of a race driver. When he was 9, he led his Bay Harbor Red Wings team to the California state championship in Pee Wee Hockey with 98 goals in 30 games.

"I played hockey until I was 17, and it crossed my mind a few times about being a pro hockey player," P.J. said. "At one time I thought I'd get a chance at the Olympic team, but I had knee surgery when I was 15, and about that time I got involved in racing and my hockey ambitions fell off."

The Jones brothers' racing legacy began on a pool table in a family vacation home near Parker, Ariz. Page was 11 or 12 at the time.

"We were shooting pool--me, P.J., Michael Chandler and my dad--and we were talking about the Caesars Palace Grand Prix coming up in Las Vegas," Page recalled. "There were three balls left on the table when I said, 'Dad, if I make them all, will you take me to the Grand Prix?' He figured there was no way I could run the table, so he said, 'Sure.' Well, I made them all.

"A couple of weeks later, when it was about time to go to Vegas, he asked me if I'd rather have a go-kart and go racing instead. I said sure and he bought me a kart and bought P.J. one for Christmas.

"Before that, we'd had Odysseys and motorcycles. There was always racing stuff around the house and the shop. We'd probably started racing snowmobiles before we were 5, but when we got our karts we started getting serious about racing."

Parnelli said the idea of racing probably started long before that--as soon as they came home from the hospital after being born.

"The first thing anybody put in their crib was a toy race car, and all the time they were growing up, I mean when they were really little, people would come over to the house and bounce P.J. or Page on their knees and say, 'Are you going to be a race driver like your daddy?' " Parnelli said.

"I never encouraged them to become racers. In fact, I tried to discourage them a bit, but once they started taking it seriously and I saw from the start that they had a talent for it, I've supported them as much as I can."

Last year, supporting P.J. even meant Parnelli's driving for him in a Firestone Firehawk race at Laguna Seca while P.J. was racing Indy Lights in Toronto. P.J. did his part by passing Robbie Buhl for the victory in the Indy Lights race, but Parnelli couldn't make it a father-son double. Parnelli took over the Toyota MR2 from Chris Cord in the lead, but two laps from the finish the gear box gave out.

"I found out it was a lot easier on me to go back into racing than to sit on the sidelines and watch my own flesh and blood out there," Parnelli said.

"It's scary, watching them during a race. I don't mean I'm worried about their ability. It's just that when I'm watching, I have no control of the situation. I'm completely confident they know what they're doing, but it still scares the hell out of me."

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