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