Gurney guides son of archrival Parnelli Jones

February 02, 1992|By Selena Roberts VTC | Selena Roberts VTC,Orlando Sentinel

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The penny loafers, baggy pants and patient face.

Dan Gurney looked like a typical father figure, his hands in his pockets as he watched a young driver take his car out for a ride. A normal scene.

Now, the bizarre part. The young driver is P.J. Jones, son of Gurney's former Indy archrival, Parnelli Jones.

"I don't think it's odd. I think it's sort of neat," said P.J., 22, who has joined Gurney's Toyota team and raced the 24 Hours of Daytona this weekend. "He's somebody that was a great racer, too. He gives me advice and teaches me. So it's like racing for my father."

Except his dad never wanted him to race -- at least not in the beginning. Parnelli put up detour signs at P.J.'s early turns.

"My parents bought me hockey sticks, baseballs and butterfly nets," P.J. said, laughing at the thought of it. "Anything but racing."

Luck was on P.J.'s side, though. Eight years ago, his younger brother, Page, wagered that if he made three consecutive pool ** shots, his father had to buy him a go-kart.

As easy as one, two, three, P.J. and his brother were behind the wheel.

"There's a lot of Parnelli in P.J.," said Gurney, 61, whose team won the 24 Hours pole position Thursday. "I think P.J. might have more finesse, but he certainly doesn't lack for aggressiveness."

P.J. never saw Gurney and his father get into a scrape. He was too young, not even born when Gurney edged Parnelli by 3 feet and .001 of a second at Green Valley in 1967.

"I always respected Parnelli, but tried to get his goat as much as possible," Gurney said jokingly. "He had his supporters, and I had mine. Everyone was always saying something to spur you on. There was a certain amount of intimidation. It was always a good contest.

"There was some knocking around. In playing pool, the white ball the cue ball. When you're racing you should always be the cue ball as opposed to the others. I think me and Parnelli were about even."

Gurney pocketed P.J. during the off-season with Parnelli's approval.

"As you get older, your enemies become your friends," Gurney said. "My relationship with P.J. all started with his dad. Those old rivalries calm down, and you actually start enjoying those people as friends."

Some thought the friendship might not withstand P.J. being in the hands of Parnelli's old enemy. It seemed too much for Parnelli to stand by and watch his old rival steer his son's career.

"Actually, Parnelli has been remarkably low-key," Gurney said. "He's been supportive. Parnelli came down and went through our shop and looked around. Of course, he probably interrogated P.J. ruthlessly, but basically he liked what he saw.

"People said that, oh, he'll be hanging around and interfere. He hasn't. This is a father who knows the business. He wants to see his son go about doing it the right way."

P.J. will race his way, without worrying about the pressure from the family name.

"You can't let it bother you," he said. "I was born into racing on April 23rd. I went to my first Indy on May 6.

"My father tried to steer me away from racing. But I think I kept pushing so much that it was inevitable. I drove our 30-foot motor home down the highway when I was 7. Driving was in me."

He's Parnelli's son all right, almost down to the letter.

"The P [in P.J.] is for Parnell, not Parnelli," said P.J., who was named Rising Star in the Sports class last year by IMSA. "My parents didn't want me to become a junior."

It doesn't keep people from expecting P.J. to live up to his father's name, though.

"He's under an extra amount of pressure," Gurney said. "We're trying to help him realize that he doesn't have to set the world on fire.

"His father was a great driver and achieved stardom, and I think in time P.J. will do much the same. I believe P.J. has matured a lot. He's learned a lot by watching over the years. I know, I've watched the kid grow up."

In a way, P.J. has two fathers he can follow.

"Yeah, it's great," P.J. said. "I think my dad gets a little more nervous than anyone else. He'd much rather him be in the car than me.

"He's a little overprotective. But then again, that's what fathers are. I'm lucky to have two people [Dan and his father] watching

out for me."

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