Print This Post Email This Post
The Cars of Vel Miletich and Parnelli Jones
Text by: Jimmy Dilamarter and Ren Wicks, Jr.
Photography by: Dean Kirkland, Walt Kuhn and (many) others
204 pages, 9.25”x 14” $69.00
275 color photos, 66 black and white photos
Published by: Dalton Watson Fine Books
Review by Doug Stokes
Prologue: Two first thoughts related to this book …
One. If had a dollar for every time that I’ve heard, “Hey, I had a Johnny Lightning Slot Car!” in the few days since I received this book … I’d have quite a few extra dollars right now.
Two. The term “iconic” has been overused (and sometimes by yours truly) so egregiously until it has almost the same impact as the word “awesome” does these days. So we are going to have to forge ahead with this review, trying mightily NOT to lean on either of above words for any sort of exposition here. It’s just that I wish that both of them still had full cred as they’d easily be applied here.
This book is a brilliantly colorful visual compendium of a glorious stable of racing cars that the late Vel Melitich and Parnelli Jones owned and operated; and that Jones recently put into the hands of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. These special racing machines span some 50 years of design, engineering and winning race performance.
Though not couched as a heavy technical treatise on these machines; there’s well enough detail in the accompanying text for anyone not familiar with the era to come to a good understanding of the times and the sort of effort that these cars represent. These are cars that were designed and drawn out on vellum and then hand-crafted by fabricators who understood every tiny detail because they made them on that bench right over there.
Lovingly-written and beautifully-photographed in exquisite detail, every car in this book looks not like a museum piece, but absolutely, positively ready to crank over and get out there and mix it up with any and all comers right now.
Maybe it’ just that I personally see so much of Parnelli Jones himself in each of these cars … He won Indy 50 years ago and only raced the first five cars (or cars like them) portrayed here, but, for me, every car in this book has his DNA, his attitude, his full personality as a total, all-in racer.
We all know that every generation has what it refers back to as a “Golden Era” and the span of the vehicles that came out of the Vel Melitich-Parnelli Jones partnership sure qualifies as one for me. From the first PJ Colt (yeah, THE Johnny Lightning Special) in 1970 to the last of the Torrance-built F1 cars and Indy cars in 1979, this is a classic car show. In between readers will also view “Big Oly”, Parnelli’s Baja-concurring Bronco, and Danny Ongais’ fiercely-beautiful Mustang Funny Car … Vel’s Parnelli Jones machines in every sense of the title.
Indy is Indy … always will be in one way or another … But somewhere along the way, car owners, or maybe it was the big corporate advertisers, stopped calling their cars “The Hot Fudge Pizza Special” or the “Floyd’s Plumbing and Heating Special.
Maybe they stopped calling Indy Cars “Specials” because they had good reason to. No one builds their own car to run against the best that the other guys can build now. You can’t, it’s against the rules. Everyone has the (except for a very expensive corporate colors paint job) the identical car with identical everything and choice of engine brand (pick one from column C or one from column H please). The cars in this book handsome are special in every sense of the word.
And then we get to meet the men who drove for Vel and Parnelli. I’ll let you get the book and go over the full record of wins and championships that they represent, but the driver’s names (here alphabetically) should give any reader a clue as to the prowess that each of the Vel’s-PJ machines was endowed with: Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Joe Leonard, Danny Ongais, Al Unser, and Parnelli Jones himself. These guys, none of them, ever drove junk.
This book could almost be taken as a text book on Indy Car design and the wonderful era that we talked about earlier—each succeeding machine on these pages is a compendium of how this merry band of racing people from (of all places, Torrance, California) kept building, winning races with, refining, and then winning more races with.
Coffee table book? Okay…so yeah, the people lucky enough to snag a copy this book for their coffee table are going to have some wonderful hours paging though pictures that one could almost fall into. There are 18 incredible pure racing vehicles here cataloged. From Parnelli’s winning Indy roadster to sleek Formula One cars, all with one thing in common, a racing bloodline that ran deep and true.
And the writing: (we mentioned it before) it is neither cheerleading nor a dry technical report. Co-author Jimmy Dilamarter was there; he did the work, got the T-shirt and here tells us about it in calm respectful tones that carried forward a very subtle (and very well-deserved) sense of pride. When Dilamarter finished working on this book and stepped back to take it all in it must have been a very special personal moment for him … It damn well was for me. – DS
THE KEY PLAYERS:
VEL MILETICH—First a sponsor of Parnelli’s behind the wheel work, then a partner in a Ford dealership, then a Champ Car owner, and then a partner with Jones and the co-creator of this marvelous stable of racing thoroughbreds. Vel was the most gentle of imposing figures, the prototype big man with an even bigger heart. My recollections of him were always, that, for a car salesman, he was not very forward or talkative. Parnelli was like that too, both of these guys preferred action to gab.
JIMMY DILAMARTER—On close inspection, one might notice that co-author Jimmy Dilamarter’s name not only appears on the book’s cover and internal credits, but on the flanks of a number of the machines pictured in this book. Dilamarter is the mechanic’s version of Parnelli, a crackerjack fabricator, brilliant tactician, and all-around hale fellow. His “been there, done that” motorsports resume is a deep and board as any, ever. To that, here adds something that very few ever saw coming: he’s an accomplished writer, and better than that, a true historian. His work on the typed part of the page every bit matches his talent in the race shop and at the race track.
PARNELLI JONES—Like a number of people, I used to carry the thought that Parnelli Jones retired from driving racing cars way too early. Of course, that was abundantly not my business, but that never stopped me having the thought. This book now (even more abundantly) reminds me of how important Parnelli Jones’ influence on racing became after he hung his helmet up once and for all. (I was wrong; I admit it … haven’t had the opportunity to mention that fact to the man … maybe he’ll see it here.) Let’s just say that this book is a proper tribute to a wonderful era in American motorsports as well as to the real people who led it.
Editor’s note: To see for yourself what Stokes is so revved up about above, head to daltonwatson.com where they have a number of pages available for on-screen viewing. Our editor at large (who saw many of these car race) tells us that those page views are nowhere as stunning on screen as they are on the printed page. Buy the book.
You can also pre-order the book via Amazon here.