The 103rd Indianapolis 500 event is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 26, 2019, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. The legendary event has been the premier event for American open wheel racing for decades with roots deeply imbedded in dirt track racing. To honor this heritage, we plan on counting down the top 20 dirt track racers that have won the Indianapolis 500.
Today we profile Johnnie Parsons at #11 on our list. Born in Los Angeles, Parsons grew up near the sport. His uncle rented garage space to dirt track drivers including the legendary driver and race car innovator Frank Lockhart. Parsons sold programs at Gilmore Stadium midget track growing up, becoming a fan of California driver Bob Swanson. As he continued to grow into the sport, he tried to emulate Swanson’s crowd-pleasing style.
Parsons was hired to work in Frank Kurtis’ shop, which only served to add fuel to his racing passion. He dreamed of driving for Kurtis in the Indianapolis 500.
Parsons early racing stats were stellar. The California driver was known as a charger, often coming from the rear of the field to win events. He won 11 national championship events between 1948 and 1952. He claimed more championship points in post-war competition than any other driver.
He competed in the Indianapolis 500 a total of ten times, from 1949 through 1958, winning the race in 1950. His name was misspelled on the Borg-Warner Trophy when the silversmith carved “Johnny” instead of “Johnnie.” When the trophy was restored in 1991, a decision to keep the error on the trophy as part of race lore was made.
Parsons won the 1942 United Midget Association Championship, finished Second in his first Indy 500, Won in 1950, and captured the 1955 Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race.
He became the Chief Steward for the USAC Midget division on the West Coast in the 1970s. Inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1984. Sadly, he died before receiving notification that he was selected for enshrinement. He was also inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2004.