INDIANAPOLIS – When Johnny Parsons got behind the wheel of Gene Nolen’s USAC Silver Crown car for the first time, he knew the yellow No. 20 – with its unique V-6 engine under the hood – was a ride he wanted to be in for a long time.
“He was a great guy, a good guy to work with,” Parsons said of Nolen, who passed away at the age of 77 on April 8. “He had some good ideas. When I first got in the car at Springfield (in 1989), he said ‘I just raised the car up a little bit. I wanted to try and see if it got some side bite. I came in after hot laps thinking ‘boy, I want to start driving that car all the time. And I ended up driving for him for quite a while and had a good time.”
After starting second and finishing second with eight laps led during that 1989 Springfield race, it was nearly another year before Parsons got his chance with Nolen again, becoming the team’s full-time driver between 1990 and 1993 and notching two victories.
Parsons became a decorated veteran of auto racing over four decades, competing against the likes of A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti in the 1960s and staying involved all the way to the likes of Dave Darland and Tracy Hines in the late 2000s.
Although Parsons scored 30 USAC National Midget victories and five USAC National Sprint Car wins during his career and was one of the longest-tenured veterans of the Silver Crown series entering the 1991 season, with 20 years of experience under his belt, his long-awaited first Crown victory had eluded him for two decades.
Parsons, a veteran of 12 Indianapolis 500 starts and two top-five finishes in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, finally got his breakthrough first career USAC Silver Crown win as a driver, which also happened to be the first series win by Nolen as a team owner, at Indianapolis Raceway Park on June 29, 1991.
“We were pretty elated,” Parsons remembered. “It was a neat deal. Before that race, we had been leading at Du Quoin and lost a driveshaft. We dropped out at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. We had a bad run of luck. Gene worked really hard as did Bill Tranter, the mechanic on it, and the guys all worked together. It was a good team with a good bunch of people, and I think we’re still going to see the car come back without Gene in memory of him (in 2020).
“(He was a) great guy.”