Saturday’s Racing at Riverside : Parnelli Jones Waits His Turn, Wins Own Race

Times Staff Writer

Parnelli Jones spent the first hour and 50 minutes of the three-hour Parnelli Jones/Firestone Firehawk Endurance race at Riverside International Raceway Saturday afternoon pacing behind the pit wall, checking his watch and craning his neck to see if maybe G.S. Johnson had decided to bring the Nissan 300ZX Turbo in.

Johnson did finally let him have a turn, but as Jones roared away, Johnson said that he was sending the old veteran out in “a piece of junk” that he had messed up by bouncing off the wall in Turn 6 on the second lap. Johnson said that the steering wheel was off-center, handling was bad, and he had to pump the brakes and brake early.

But if a 28-year-old newcomer was able to coax that car into a solid lead, Jones, a 53-year-old racing legend, certainly wasn’t going to concede anything.


Jones was first to take the checkered flag in the race that he was co-sponsoring--despite the car’s problems, despite a black-flag penalty for passing cars under the yellow, and despite the fact that he had not won a race here since a Trans-Am victory 17 years ago.

The Johnson/Jones Nissan averaged 80.76 m.p.h. Doug and Tom Goad were second in a Pontiac Firebird, and Bill Bayley and Andy Pilgrim were third in a Pontiac Firebird.

There was nothing simple about how he won the race or how he hooked up with the Nissan team.

When he agreed to sponsor the race, the deal included a guarantee that he was drive with a team that had a competitive car. He thought he would be driving a Pontiac. He found out on Tuesday that he would be joining Johnson in the Nissan, and then he was disappointed to hear that it was an ’86 and not an ’87.

He wasn’t exactly pleased with the race strategy, either. They were talking about taking it easy early and sprinting at the end.

Johnson said that he had heard Jones was pretty hard on cars, too. Johnson was worried that there wouldn’t be a car for him to drive if Jones started.


So it was decided that Johnson would start and turn over a car that was in good shape.

“As it turned out, I abused the car quite a bit,” Johnson said.

Johnson backed off the boost as long as he was running in a bent-up car so that he could conserve fuel. He led from the first lap through the 29th, when Joe Varde passed him going into turn two. Johnson turned the boost back up “to keep him in sight” and ended up catching him again on Lap 49.

As long as he had the lead--and it was the first time he had led a Firehawk race--and as long as he had fuel, Johnson decided to keep it rolling.

Johnson finally turned the car over to Jones on Lap 59 during a pit stop that took 2 minutes 3seconds. The crew had trouble with one of the tires and also had to bend the metal out on the right side of the car. With new tires and the car bent back into shape, Jones said he had little trouble with the handling.

A Chevy Camaro driven by Buddy Norton and Nick Moore took the lead while Johnson and Jones were making their change, but a yellow caution period on lap 69 gave Jones a chance to close the gap some. When the green flag came back out Jones took the lead on Lap 76.

He was assessed a penalty that required him to come into his pit, but he managed to get back out on the track without losing the lead. He led the rest of the way.

Tom Kendall, last year’s Grand Sports champion along with Max Jones, went out of the race after less than an hour when he hit the wall in Turn 9. It was the first time in 14 Firehawk starts that Kendall didn’t finish.


Garth Ullom and Terry Earwood won the Sports Division in a Shelby Charger, and Al Salerno and Bob Henderson won the Touring Division in a Volkswagen GTI.

Randy McDaniel of Orange won the Parnelli Jones/Firestone Westpro Sports 2,000 race after leading the 33-car field from start to finish.

McDaniel finished the 30-minute race 1.26 seconds ahead of Bill Fickling. Craig Meintzer was third.