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Even at 66, Jones Keeps on Truckin’

Parnelli Jones quit driving Indy cars in 1967, when he was 34, but the 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner always maintained that he had never “retired.”

For years, he maintained a high profile driving Bill Stroppe’s Bronco in Baja off-road races and a Ford Mustang in the Trans-Am series, but gradually it seemed as if he had retired except for the occasional vintage race.

Now, at 66, he is coming back.

Jones will drive an Ultra Wheel Spec Truck in the fourth annual Ford L.A. Street Race in Exposition Park on July 15-16.

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“I figure I can still handle a truck,” said the Hall of Fame driver. “We’ll see if I make a fool out of myself.”

His last race was in his Trans-Am Mustang in a vintage race last year at Laguna Seca. He finished second, having won several years earlier.

“I’ve kept active a little bit, helping Barnes Management with their driving schools,” Jones said. “I’ve been to Sebring with Skip Barber, to Willow Springs with Danny McKeever and I’ve worked with Ford executives at the Bob Bondurant School.

“When the L.A. Street Race folks asked me to be grand marshal of the Southwest Tour race, I figured if I was going to be there, I might as well race. I figured I could fit in with the trucks, but I don’t want to get too serious. On the other hand, if I enjoy it, you never know.”

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Spec trucks are built by Jon Nelson in Temecula and participate at oval tracks such as Irwindale Speedway, Mesa Marin Raceway, Cajon Speedway and Orange Show Speedway, as well as road circuits such as Willow Springs and Buttonwillow.

The Ultra Wheel Spec Trucks race will be one of three supporting events for the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour points race. The others are the PRO Racing series featuring late-model production sports cars, and the Cobra Challenge for cars of the ‘60s designed by Carroll Shelby.

Racing will be over an eight-turn course that passes the Coliseum and winds up with an S-turn in the south parking lot of the Sports Arena.

SPRINT CAR’S GAS MAN

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Richard Griffin has been known as “the Gas Man” in sprint car circles for years because of the way he stomps the accelerator to the floor.

The name is also pertinent because Griffin owns a petroleum business in Silver City, N.M., which helps pay for his hobby--racing non-winged sprint cars just about every weekend.

Griffin, champion of the Sprint Car Racing Assn. the last two seasons, has a commanding lead again this year and is also leading in the cross-country Non-Winged World Championship series, which last week concluded a rainy six-race tour of the Midwest.

The SCRA will return to its home track, Perris Auto Speedway, for the Firecracker 50 on Saturday night. Griffin won the only other 50-lapper, a marathon by sprint-car standards, at Perris last month.

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“I think the longer the race, the more it benefits me, because I’ve been around racing more than most of the guys,” Griffin said from his home in Silver City. “Some of the younger guys get lost in the long races.”

Most SCRA races are 30 laps. Griffin scored his lone victory on the non-wing tour in a 20-lapper at Terre Haute, Ind.

Jay Drake, who left his home in Val Verde to live in Indianapolis while campaigning with the U.S. Auto Club, won three of the six races, but because of a technicality he is not eligible for the series title.

“I didn’t think I’d run that many races, so I didn’t register with [Commissioner] Ron Shuman,” Drake said. “It was just a mistake on my part, but I’ll be out when the series resumes in the fall for the big-bucks races.”

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The non-wing series will conclude Nov. 3-4 at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, Nov. 10-11 in Perris and Thanksgiving weekend in Phoenix.

Griffin, who drives the red No. 50 for car owner Ron Chaffin of Madera, with Bruce Bromme Jr. of Paso Robles the crew chief, leads Rip Williams, 1,102-837, in the SCRA and leads defending champion Cory Kruseman, 311-247, in the non-winged series. He has won seven SCRA races already, one more than he won all last season.

“One reason we’re winning so much is that our team has been together four years, which has given us time to get comfortable with one another,” Griffin said. “Bruce is good with the chassis setup and he understands my feedback. Ron Shaver builds our engines and he’s the best.”

Chaffin has won the owners’ championship the last five years, starting with Lealand McSpadden in 1995. Griffin replaced the retired McSpadden in 1996 and twice finished second to Shuman before breaking through in 1998. However, when Shuman won, he drove for several owners, so Chaffin won the owners’ title both years.

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Griffin, 35, flies his own plane from Silver City to SCRA races, landing in Hemet after a three-hour flight for races at Perris.

“When I was younger, I had aspirations to drive at Indy or in NASCAR, but the opportunity never arose,” he said. “Now I have my business going and my future is at home.”

In 1989 he finished second in the American IndyCar series and was honored as rookie of the year.

IKF KARTS

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Former world motorcycle road racing champions Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey will be racing 140-mph karts today at Willow Springs Raceway in the International Karting Federation’s Roadrace Grandnationals.

Lawson, four-time champion from Upland, and Rainey, a paraplegic three-time champion from Downey, will ride 250cc water-cooled Yamahas in the unlimited class. Lawson is the Southern California Karters champion. They will ride in two 20-minute heats on the nine-turn, 2.5-mile road course.

LAST LAPS

After Jim Inglebright’s victory over Greg Pursley in last week’s NASCAR Southwest Tour race on Sears Point’s road course, the Featherlite series will return to oval racing Saturday night for the Firecracker 100 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield. Matt Crafton, who finished fifth at Sears Point, increased his series lead by 71 points over Augie Vidovich. Sean Woodside is defending champion at Mesa Marin. . . . It will be “Christmas in July” all next month at Irwindale Speedway, where the L.A. County Fire Dept. will collect holiday toys for needy children during each of the track’s five Saturday night NASCAR race programs.

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Evan Evans will try to become the first paraplegic to race up 14,119-foot Pikes Peak in a specially designed GMC Sierra, operated by hand controls that run the accelerator, brakes and gear shift. He will be competing in the traditional Fourth of July Pikes Peak Hillclimb, the 78th, on Tuesday. Evans was paralyzed from the waist down in a non-racing motorcycle accident near his home in Riverside.

Joe Garone, crew chief on Scott Pruett’s Winston Cup car, was fined $50,000 after NASCAR officials found an illegal liquid brake-cooling device on car owner Cal Wells’ No. 32 car after Sunday’s race at Sears Point. Pruett and Wells were also docked 50 points in driver and owner standings. . . . Roush Racing has dropped Chad Little from its 2001 Winston Cup roster, although Little will continue to drive the No. 97 Ford for the rest of the 2000 season. . . . The Indy Racing League’s Scott Goodyear and Panther Racing have also announced their parting in 2001.

NECROLOGY

On June 19, 1949, NASCAR ran its first official race on a three-quarter-mile dirt track in Charlotte, N.C. Glenn Dunnaway took the checkered flag with a three-lap lead over Jim Roper’s Lincoln Cosmopolitan. However, when Dunnaway’s car was found to be in violation of “strictly stock” rules, Roper was declared the winner in a car he had driven to North Carolina from a showroom floor in Halstead, Kan. Among the drivers Roper beat were future Hall of Famers Fonty Flock, Red Byron, Lee Petty, Curtis Turner and Buck Baker. Roper died last week in Newton, Kan., of heart and liver failure. He was 83.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

This Week’s Races

WINSTON CUP, Pepsi 400

* When: Today, second-round qualifying, 3:30 p.m.; Saturday, race (Channel 2, 5 p.m.)

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* Where: Daytona International Speedway (tri-oval, 2.5 miles, 31 degrees banking in turns), Daytona Beach, Fla.

* Race distance: 400 miles, 160 laps.

* Defending champion: Dale Jarrett.

* Next race: Jiffy Lube 300, July 9, Loudon, N.H.

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BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL, Sears DieHard 250

* When: Saturday, qualifying, 8:30 a.m.; Sunday, race (Ch. 2, 11 a.m.)

* Where: The Milwaukee Mile (oval, 1 mile, 9 degrees banking in turns), West Allis, Wis.

* Race distance: 250 miles, 250 laps.

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* Defending champion: Casey Atwood.

* Next race: Nazareth 200, July 16, Nazareth, Pa.

CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS, Sears DieHard 200

* When: Today, qualifying, 11:30 a.m.; Saturday, race (Channel 2, 11:30 a.m.)

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* Where: The Milwaukee Mile (oval, 1 mile, 9 degrees banking in turns), West Allis, Wis.

* Race distance: 200 miles, 200 laps.

* Defending champion: Greg Biffle.

* Next race: New Hampshire 200, July 8, Loudon.

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CART, Marconi Grand Prix

* When: Today, qualifying, noon; Sunday, race (Channel 7, 3 p.m.)

* Where: Burke Lakefront Airport (temporary road course, 2.106 miles, 10 turns), Cleveland.

* Race distance: 210.6 miles, 100 laps.

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* Defending champion: Juan Montoya.

* Next race: Molson Indy, July 16, Toronto.

FORMULA ONE, French Grand Prix

* When: Saturday, qualifying (Speedvision, 4 a.m.); Sunday, race (Speedvision, 4:30 a.m.)

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* Where: Magny-Cours (road course, 2.641 miles), Magny-Cours, France.

* Race distance: 72 laps, 190.152 miles.

* Defending champion: Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

* Next race: Austrian Grand Prix, July 16, Spielberg.

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