The 47th International 500-Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana on Thursday, May 30, 1963.
Parnelli Jones took his only Indy 500 win despite his car (nicknamed "Calhoun") spewing oil from a cracked overflow tank for many laps, which allegedly caused at least one driver to spin and crash. USAC officials put off black-flagging Jones after car owner J. C. Agajanian ran down pit lane and convinced them that the oil leak was below the level of a known crack and would not leak any further. Lotus owner Colin Chapman, whose English-built, rear-engined Lotus-Ford finished second in the hands of Scotsman Jim Clark, accused USAC officials of being biased towards the American driver and car.
The non-black flagging of Jones remains controversial. Many, including Chapman and journalist and author Brock Yates, believed that had it been an American driver and car in second place instead of Clark in the British built Lotus, officials would have black flagged him.
Goodyear arrived at the track and supplied tires for some entries, but participated only in practice. No cars used Goodyear tires during time trials or the race itself. It was the first time since about 1921 that Goodyear attempted to compete at Indy. Goodyear had last won the race in 1919.
Time trials was scheduled for four days.Saturday May 18 – Pole Day time trials
Parnelli Jones wins the pole position for the second consecutive year. His speed of 151.150 mph is a new track record.
Sunday May 19 – Second day time trials
Saturday May 25 – Third day time trials
Rookie Bobby Unser drives one of the Novis to a speed of 149.420 mph, fastest of the afternoon, to line up 16th.
Rookie Johnny Rutherford bumped Mexican driver Pedro Rodríguez
Sunday May 26 – Fourth day time trials
Parnelli Jones started from the pole position, and at the start, led the field into turn one. A fierce duel broke out in the opening laps. Jim Hurtubise, who started in the middle of the front row, caught up to Jones down the backstretch, and passed him for the lead. Hurtubise led at the stripe at the completion of lap 1. On lap 2, Jones caught up to Hurtubise again, and took the lead back in turn four, and led lap 2. Hurtubise dove down to re-take the lead in turn one, but Jones was able to slip by and hold the position.
On lap 3, Bobby Unser swerved to avoid running into the car of Dick Rathmann. Unser spun out and crashed into the wall in turn one. The yellow light would stay on for nearly ten minutes to clean up a gasoline spill caused by the wreck. Jones continued to lead, and when the green flag came back out on lap 10, he pulled out to a sizable margin.
With Jones ahead, Hurtubise was running second, holding off Roger McCluskey and Bobby Marshman in 3rd-4th. Hurtubise held off their challenge for many laps, his powerful Novi engine blasting down the long straights. By lap 40, however, McCluskey and Marshman finally got by Hurtubise. Jones was all alone though, ahead by over 20 seconds.
On lap 46, the yellow came out for a crash by Bud Tingelstad in turn two. At the same time, Allen Crowe lost a wheel and crashed in turn 1. Still under the caution light on lap 50, Jim McElreath and Bobby Marshman spun in the pit area. They avoided a major mishap and made no contact. They got to their pit stalls, and rejoined the race.
Leader Parnelli Jones made his first pit stop on lap 62. As the other leaders pitted one by one, Jim Clark and Dan Gurney (driving the Lotus 29-Ford rear-engined machines) worked their way to the front of the field. The venerable front engine roadsters were expected to make 2–3 pits stops each, while the rear-engined Lotus machines were planning on only one pit stop for fuel. Tire wear was a concern for the heavy roadsters, but the Lotus team was hoping to go the whole way without changing any tires. Clark passed Roger McCluskey for the lead on lap 68.
With Clark and Gurney running 1st-2nd, Parnelli Jones was running third. Despite having already pitted, Jones remarkably was only about 18 seconds behind. The superior handling the rear-engined machines enjoyed in the corners was still somewhat trumped by the higher top speed the front-engined roadsters achieved down the long straights.
It was around lap 80 that observers began to see oil smoke intermittently trailing Parnelli Jones' car. Jim Clark made his lone scheduled pit stop on lap 95, taking on fuel and changing three tires (the rarely-worn left-front was left in place). His stop was timed at 33 seconds. That gave the lead back to Jones, who now enjoyed a 37-second margin. Dan Gurney in the other Lotus, however, had a worn out right-rear tire, and his pit stop dragged on for 42 seconds. Gurney went a lap down and dropped to 9th place.
Jim Hurtubise, an early contender who started slipping in the standings due to handling issues, dropped out at the halfway point with an oil leak.
Jim McElreath spun in the pits, brushed the wall, and lost a wheel. He was able to get to his pit stall, and was able to rejoin the race.
Just after the 120-lap mark, Eddie Johnson spun about three-fourths the way down the backstretch, likely due to hitting an oil slick. He spun to the inside, and crashed into the inside wall. Under the yellow light on lap 125, Parnelli Jones made his second pit stop, taking advantage of the caution. After a 27-second pit stop, he came out of the pits still in the lead, and lost minimal ground.
With 50 laps to go, Parnelli Jones had a 43-second lead over second place Jim Clark, and A. J. Foyt was in third. All other cars were at least one lap down. Dan Gurney had worked his way back up to 4th, Roger McCluskey was running 5th, followed by Eddie Sachs, Rodger Ward, Jim McElreath, Don Branson, and Bobby Marshman filling out the top ten.
At around lap 160, Duane Carter blew an engine in turn one, bringing out the yellow light. Leader Parnelli Jones took advantage of the yellow once again, and ducked into the pits. He changed tires in 20 seconds, and was back out on the track. His once commanding lead, however, was down to only 10 seconds. The Lotus team of Jim Clark and Dan Gurney were now running 2nd and 4th, respectively, and the question remained if they would both be able to go the distance without another pit stop to change tires.
When the green came back out, Jim Clark began steadily closing the gap behind Parnelli Jones. With 25 laps to go, Jones' lead was down to only 5–6 seconds. Meanwhile, Dan Gurney was forced to the pits with a worn out right-rear tire. A couple laps later, he was back in the pits to change the right-front, and Gurney fell out of contention for the victory. He wound up 7th at the finish.
In the closing laps, Eddie Sachs spun on two occasions, once on lap 179, then again in turn three on about lap 189, the second time hitting the wall and losing a wheel. The second spin was the impetus of a controversy that embroiled over the next few minutes.
With about 20 laps to go, USAC officials were growing increasing concerned with smoke coming from the leader's car. Parnelli Jones had been visibly leaking oil for some time due to a horizontal crack in the external oil tank at the rear of the car. Some observers were reporting the smoke was more intense, particularly in the turns, and that dripping oil was making the track slick, which led to Eddie Sach's crash in turn three. USAC chief steward Harlan Fengler was contemplating displaying the black flag to Jones, which would have sent him to the pits for consultation, and almost certainly deny him any chance at victory.
J. C. Agajanian, the owner of the Jones entry, immediately confronted Harlan Fengler and Henry Banks in a heated exchange at the start/finish line. Colin Chapman of the Lotus team also rushed over to join the discussion, arguing for Clark's case, and that Jones should be disqualified for leaking oil. Agajanian argued that the leak was minor, and had ceased once it dropped below the level of the crack. He also quipped that other cars on the track were leaking worse, without recourse. The confrontation went on for several minutes on the grass parapet by the starter's stand, and USAC ultimately decided not to black flag Jones.
The green light came back on for lap 193, and Jones quickly pulled out to a 21-second lead. After Clark had narrowed the gap significantly, Jones was again holding a commanding lead. Parnelli Jones stayed in front and led to the finish. With the white flag waving, Roger McCluskey spun out and came to a rest in turn two, bringing out a last-lap yellow. Jones was already past the incident, and cruised to victory. Jim Clark come home second, and A. J. Foyt finished third.
The day after the race, Eddie Sachs and Parnelli Jones got into an argument, and exchanged fists over the oil leak controversy. Chief Stewart Harlan Fengler explained his decision not to black flag Jones, citing that the leak had subsided, and that so few laps were left, that he didn't want to "take this race away from a man on a snap judgement."
The Lotus team, while unhappy with the perceived favoritism offered to the American participants, ultimately declined to protest. They acknowledged Jones' clear superiority in the event. In addition, Ford officials recognized that a victory through disqualification of Clark's biggest competitor would not be well received by the public.First alternate: Len Sutton (#7, #47)
The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Sid Collins served as chief announcer. Fred Agabashian served as "driver expert."
Lou Palmer, who had debuted in 1958, moved from turn three to the pit area, where he would remain for 25 years. Palmer also took over the duty of the winner's interview in victory lane. Mike Ahern returned to the broadcast after a year absence, and took over the turn three location.
The radio affiliate count topped 700 stations worldwide.
For the third year, a few minutes of race highlights were telecast on ABC's "Wide World Of Sports".