It was 50 years ago that Jim Cook from South Bloomfield did something so audacious that it shook the foundations of the racing world. He convinced Topper Toys’ founder Henry Orenstein to sponsor the Parnellie Jones Racing Team.
Topper had a toy metal car that competed poorly with Mattel’s “Hot Wheels” called “Johnny Lightning.” He convinced Orenstein by telling him that Al Unser would win the Indy 500 driving a “Johnny Lightning Special.” Orenstein signed on to sponsor 5 racing cars. People in the industry laughed at the prospect of a toy company entering the field of serious sponsors, but Cook and his team backed up his bold prediction about Al Unser. They beat the pants off the competition and won the Indy 500 in 1970 and 1971. Suddenly, the “Johnny Lightning” toy car was a hot competitor to Mattel’s.
By Bob Hines, Facebook Editor for Ohio’s Small Town Museum in Ashville.
Ashville Area Heritage Society
34 Long Street
Ashville, Ohio 43103
PHOTO SOURCE: savageonwheels.com