Ask Donald Davidson: Keeping up with the Indy 500 Joneses

Published On December 1, 2016 » 7301 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History

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With the recent announcement that Ed Jones will be driving next year for Dale Coyne Racing, how many total drivers will that be in the “500” who have had the surname of Jones? — John Wells, Bloomington, Illinois

Believe it or not, a successful qualifying run by Ed Jones would bring the total number of starters named Jones up to 10, while Ed would become the 13th different Jones to have given it a try. Rather surprisingly, only two of those 13 have been related. PJ Jones, who earned a starting position in 2004 and 2006 being, of course, the son of 1963 “500” winner Parnelli. The other notable Jones would be the somewhat-underrated Davy, who placed second in 1996, and then just three weeks later, shared the winning Porsche in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Davy had five “500” starts between 1987 and 1996, also placing seventh in 1989. He actually qualified for one more, in 1994, but then was obliged to turn his car over for the race to Scott Goodyear, the No. 1 driver on the team for which Davy was driving, but whose own qualifying speed had not held up as one of the 33 fastest.

Nine men named Jones have raced in the "500" so far -- the best being 1963 champion Parnelli.

Nine men named Jones have raced in the “500” so far — the best being 1963 champion Parnelli.

Interestingly enough, Parnelli, PJ and Davy are the ones to have started more than once, with the half-dozen single-starting Jones drivers being Will in 1911; Melville C. in 1925; both Herb and Ben (not related) in 1926; Norman “Bubby” Jones in 1977; and the Canadian driver John Jones, who placed 11th in 1989.  John was the only one of the six who was still around for the checkered flag.

Honorable mention should go to Walter Jones, who was a member of the Amplex team in 1911, and while he did not get to start the race, he did drive a number of relief laps for Bill Turner, who ended up eighth. It was Walter’s only appearance.

Two others who tried much later, albeit unsuccessfully, were Danny “Termite” Jones, who made an incomplete qualifying attempt with Joe Hunt’s No. 47 roadster in 1961, and Dee Jones of Phoenix who was around for several years and waved-off a run with Ernie Ruiz’s Travelon Trailer roadster in 1964. Dee, who is now deceased, told us many years ago, “That wasn’t supposed to have been an attempt,” continuing, “We had made a setup change and we wanted to try it out, but the track was busy with qualification runs, so we decided to get in line, take the three warmups and come back in without taking the green. Well, the change worked out well, and so when I came by the next time, I gave the crew the “OK” sign. The next thing I know, the officials thought I had raised my hand to take the green, and we were ON IT!”

Another little story:  Two or three years ago, John Jones showed up in the IMS photo department during the dead of winter and we asked him if he knew the answer to a “500” trivia question for which HE was the answer, to which he responded, without missing a beat, “Oh, you mean, if you look at the shot of Little Al hitting the wall after touching wheels with Fittipaldi in 1989, I’m the other guy in the picture?”

And finally, faithful readers of this blog will, no doubt, guess what is coming next, which is, “How many drivers have competed in the “500” with the surname of Smith?”, the incredible answer being, of course, “NONE!”

Has a U.S. President ever attended the “500” while in office? — Dan Zachary, via Facebook

No, not while in office. There have been three former presidents to attend, however, the first being Gerald Ford in 1979, the year he served as Grand Marshal for the 500 Festival parade. The other two were George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who were both on hand for the pre-race ceremonies and the start in 2003.

Bill Clinton visited IMS in 2003, one of three U.S. Presidents to visit after their terms in office.

Bill Clinton visited IMS in 2003, one of three U.S. Presidents to visit after their terms in office.


About The Author

Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.

However, Dan Quayle attended the 500 as a sitting Vice-President in 1989, I believe, and it's probable that Mike Pence will soon be joining him on that particular short list.