JOHNNY LIGHTNING VPJ COLT-FORD LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE
It’s impressive that the same basic design scored back-to-back Indy
wins, but the combination of talents involved makes it less surprising.
WORDS Robin Miller
MAIN IMAGE Rick Graves
Eric Schweikardt/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
t had one memorable paint job, two
incarnations and an amazing run of
success before being mothballed by the
new wave of Indy car.
Kids of that generation knew it as the
Johnny Lightning Special – that was its
name – but rivals on the USAC National
Championship Trail called it a four-letter
word (official and unofficial versions)
because the Colt chassis, in the hands of
Al Unser and Joe Leonard, had other
drivers cussing as it wreaked havoc on
USAC in 1970 and ’ 71. Owned by Parnelli
Jones and Vel Miletich, refined by George
Bignotti and bankrolled in part by
Firestone, the VPJ Colt captured back-to-back Indy 500s and USAC drivers’ titles.
“Nobody else liked it but we did,”
cackles Jones. “It was a winner.” It was
also one of those backyard collaborations
of man and machine that no longer exists
in today’s world of spec racing.
“Eric Broadley had designed a four-wheel drive Lola in 1968 that really got
Al’s career going,” recalls Jimmy
Dilamarter, who served as crew chief for
Unser from 1968 through ’ 72. “He,
George [Bignotti] and our small team won