SI Vault
Kim Chapin
February 19, 1973
Dad wouldn't let him run the old Studebaker so J.C. Agajanian became a sponsor instead. Now he wheels and deals as the high-rolling dandy in a couple of sporting worlds
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February 19, 1973

Gin Rummy And Racing Cars

Dad wouldn't let him run the old Studebaker so J.C. Agajanian became a sponsor instead. Now he wheels and deals as the high-rolling dandy in a couple of sporting worlds

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"Parnelli came to me at the end of the 1962 season and told me, 'Aggie, I've got $10,000 and I've never had that much money before. Help me invest it.' Today Parnelli is a wealthy man." The joint Agajanian and Jones real-estate investments, worth about $500,000, are only a part of the Jones fortune.

After the 1966 season sponsor Aggie tried to talk driver Jones into retirement. Parnelli was only 33 then and a man of fierce pride, and most people thought that such a decision would be premature, including Jones himself. "People will think I'm a coward," he told Agajanian.

"Just slap 'em across the face with your wallet," Aggie replied, and Jones almost did retire—until Andy Granatelli talked him into driving the radical new turbine racer the following May. But on Aggie's advice, Jones did not sell himself cheaply, and it was rumored that Granatelli paid $100,000 for Parnelli's services.

A comparison between car owners Agajanian and Granatelli is inevitable, and while there is perhaps no lasting bad blood between the two flamboyant personalities, neither is there a deep friendship. Not too long ago Granatelli paid Agajanian a backhanded compliment by writing, "Aggie is the second-best promoter in the country." On Aggie's part, his disaffection goes back more than 20 years, to a time when he was promoting races in Illinois and received a threat from the " Chicago boys" to get the hell out of the state. Twenty years ago the " Chicago boys" could have meant most any gang and Aggie, not quite sure exactly whose feathers he was ruffling, bailed out.

Several years later at a dinner party at Granatelli's, Agajanian learned that Andy himself was behind the eviction notice. "Andy told me he was only kidding," said Aggie.

Aggie has always played by the rules, but he also plays the USAC power game as well as anyone ever has. Although he is loath to talk about his role in that organization's clubby politics, which he sees firsthand from his position as a member of its board of directors, executive committee and rules and safety committees, it is clear from other conversations that Aggie has been personally responsible for more than one hiring and firing over the years. It is to his credit that through it all, the major wars and the petty skirmishes, he has maintained his reputation for integrity.

Perhaps the fullest measure of the respect paid Agajanian was shown in September 1971 when he was chosen—much to Granatelli's chagrin—to introduce to President Nixon the 150 members of the racing fraternity who had been invited to the White House for an afternoon bash. A White House memo after the reception said in part, "[ Agajanian] knew every man coming through the line and introduced each to the President with avuncular fondness. The assurance of this man in the Presidential presence, as compared to the deference of even most Congressmen, was a marvel. It is safe to guess that the Nixon back was slapped more times by the Agajanian right paw alone in that one hour, than by all the rest of the American people in all 32 months since the Inauguration put together. The big dude was absolutely irrepressible...."

Still, there is a certain aura about Aggie that produces a subtle sense of intimidation. Vel Miletich, co-owner of the Vel's- Parnelli Jones racing team, remembers the day in 1960 when he introduced Jones to Agajanian, thus bringing together the principals in what was to become one of the most successful Indy teams of all time.

"I went up to Aggie at some track on the West Coast," said Miletich, "and told him there was a good young driver that wanted to meet him.

"Aggie said, 'Sure. Where is he?'

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