January 12, 2016

50th Anniversary Time Capsule Tuesday Bios

Charles "Chuck" Parsons

Team Penske will be celebrating 50 years in motorsports in 2016. To help bring you many of the terrific stories of our five-decade run of excellence we will begin weekly online features, starting with today’s first “Time Capsule Tuesday.” We hope you enjoy this memorable time in our history.

In his only start with Team Penske, Charles “Chuck” Parsons was a last-minute substitute for an injured Ronnie Bucknum. As a result, Parsons was paired with Mark Donohue at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona. Not only was it the first time Parsons ever raced at Daytona, it was also his first-ever night race. Donohue qualified the No. 6 Sunoco Team Penske Lola T/70 Mark IIIB on the outside of the front row in the second position. Parsons and Donohue had a race fraught with adversity yet held it together to score an upset victory in the historic race as the Porsche team – the heavy favorites – all  dropped out with mechanical issues.

The green flag fell around 3:00 PM ET on Saturday, February 1, 1969 and early on the Sunoco Team Penske Lola, along with the five factory Porsches, began to distance themselves from the balance of the 63 car field. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse for the Penske Lola as a fuel pick-up issue forced the team to have to pit twice as often as planned.

As the grueling race wore on the Penske Lola was plagued with cracked exhaust manifolds, a jammed starter and an on-track incident that resulted in the left front needing repairs. At one point there were discussions of retiring, but the Penske squad persevered through the night despite being many laps down to the leading Porsches and Ford GTs.

The never say die attitude was eventually rewarded by sunrise as the factory Porsches, and then Ford GTs, all fell  out of the competition. At this point, the Team Penske Lola of Donohue and Parsons was over 200 miles off of the lead, but over the last five hours of the race they made up the distance and went on to claim an unlikely victory.

It was Parsons’ one and only start with Team Penske. He made it count.

This story has a fascinating postscript as while most of the Penske crew returned home, two team members were tasked with transporting the Lola back to the shop in Pennsylvania. They stayed that night in a Daytona Beach hotel before making the long drive home. When they awoke the next morning, the truck and race car had been heisted.  

The authorities were alerted, and the media spread the news. The transporter was eventually located just west of Daytona Beach. Unfortunately, the race car and related equipment in the transporter had been ransacked and stripped. While removing the engine and other parts from the Lola the thieves hacked the car and frame to pieces. As a result, the team was not able to enter that years' 24 Hours of LeMans as had been planned.