Indy museum even more worth a visit

May, 17, 2012
05/17/12
8:07
PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum is always a treat for racing fans, and at $5, it's an unbelievable bargain.

But recently, the good folks at 16th and Georgetown have managed to pack even more value into that modest entrance fee.

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Big Oly
John Oreovicz/ESPN.com "Big Oly" was the vehicle Parnelli Jones drove in his off-road racing years and Parnelli calls it his personal favorite in the collection.

A year ago, the Hall of Fame assembled 70 Indianapolis 500 winning cars for a unique 90-day exhibition to conclude the Speedway's three-year-long Centennial Era celebration.

This year's special exhibit isn't as extensive, but it is almost just as appealing: The Hall of Fame has acquired the Vel's Parnelli Jones Collection, which until recently was privately displayed in Torrance, Calif.

The Jones collection includes several important race cars that Parnelli Jones drove, in addition to numerous Indy cars and Formula One cars built under the Parnelli name.

VPJR was formed in 1967 and fielded entries throughout the 1970s in USAC Indy cars, Formula 5000 and Formula One. The 1972-73 lineup, known as the Vel's Parnelli Jones Superteam and featuring drivers Al Unser, Joe Leonard and Mario Andretti, was the precursor to today's multicar efforts by the likes of Penske Racing and Ganassi Racing.

Perhaps the most significant car in the Parnelli collection is the oldest -- the Watson/Offy roadster that Jones drove to the first 150 mph lap in the history of IMS in 1962, and to victory in the Indy 500 a year later.

Jones will celebrate his 1962 pole position and 150 mph milestone by running a demonstration lap at 4 p.m. on Pole Day on Saturday, immediately prior to the Fast Nine pole qualifying shootout. He will also sign autographs at the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, May 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Taking pride of place on a central pedestal in the entrance to the museum is the 1964 Lotus-Ford that Jim Clark drove to pole position at Indianapolis. Later that summer, Jones took over the rear-engine special and won an Indy car race at the Milwaukee Mile.

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Indianapolis 500 winners
John Oreovicz/ESPN.comA rich history of Indianapolis 500 winners is on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame with cars spanning a century.

Another Lotus on display is the 1968 Type 56 "wedge" car powered by a turbine engine. Joe Leonard took pole position at Indianapolis in this car and led the race until being sidelined by a mechanical failure with nine laps remaining.

VPJR fielded the Colt-Ford in which Al Unser won the Indianapolis 500 and USAC championship in 1970. That car, along with the car that Unser took to a second consecutive Indianapolis victory in 1971, is currently on display at IMS.

A less successful (but perhaps more unique) Indy car is the 1972 Parnelli chassis designed by Maurice Phillipe. The IMS Hall of Fame currently boasts three of the so-called "dihedral" cars, including one in Mario Andretti livery that features the small wings that angle out of the sides of the chassis.

Expected to arrive soon is the Parnelli VPJ4B Formula One car that Mario Andretti campaigned for Vel's Parnelli Jones Racing from 1974 to '76. Something completely different is "Big Oly," the Ford Bronco-based off-road racing truck that Jones drove to two consecutive victories in the Baja 1000.

Another machine with a notable pedigree is the King-Ford USAC dirt car in which Unser won four consecutive Hoosier Hundred races on the dirt mile at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

These eight vehicles are currently housed in a separate wing of the Hall of Fame. But the rest of the museum is as worthwhile as ever, with an array of cars and motorcycles from the past century that naturally concentrates on notable Indy cars.

Currently, the Marmon Wasp that won the first Indianapolis 500 is displayed next to the Dallara IR07 that Dan Wheldon won the 100th anniversary race in last year.

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