CHITWOOD HONORS GRANDFATHER'S LEGACY OF SPEED AT INDY INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 28, 1998 -- Excitement to many is going to Las Vegas. Joie Chitwood III, manager of administration for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, is going to...
CHITWOOD HONORS GRANDFATHER'S LEGACY OF SPEED AT INDY
INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 28, 1998 -- Excitement to many is going to Las Vegas.
Joie Chitwood III, manager of administration for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, is going to Vegas for final race of the league's season Oct. 11. But the sound of spinning slot machines, rolling dice and ecstatic shouts of the winners is nothing compared to the excitement he experienced on a recent warm late September day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
First of all, it must be explained it takes a lot to thrill this young man. For 19 years, he toured with the famed Joie Chitwood Automobile Thrill Show started by his late grandfather, Joie Sr., and continued by father, Joie Jr., and uncle Tim. He did everything from standing on the side of a car riding down a track on two wheels to running over ramps and turning them over.
Second, it must be explained that he idolized his grandfather.
And finally it must be pointed out that although Joie Sr. -- "Chief" to those closest to him -- is most remembered for his thrill show performances around the country for many years, he also drove in seven Indianapolis 500-Mile Races wrapped around World War II and had three fifth-place finishes.
Joie III earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and finance while spending his summers on the thrill show circuit. He joined the Indy Racing League on a two-month assignment to help with the inaugural race in January 1996 at Orlando, Fla., then was hired full time the next month.
In his Indy Racing League office across 16th Street from the Speedway in Indianapolis, a picture of his grandfather taken after he qualified the Noc-Out Hose Clamp Special 12th for the 1946 Indy 500 hangs on the wall. That was the first "500" after World War II and first for new track owner Tony Hulman. Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose had shared an Indy victory ride in the machine in 1941 shortly before the track was shut down for the war.
The youngest Chitwood learned that his grandfather's car was residing in the basement of the Speedway Hall of Fame Museum restored to magnificent condition. For two years, he dreamed of getting his picture taken in the car in basically the same position and pose of that of his grandfather so he could hang it next to the one already there. He didn't know where to start, but finally earlier this summer he got up the nerve to make some inquiries and ask whether such a photo session might be possible.
On Sept. 23 during a tire-testing session break for lunch, the beautiful robin-egg blue and red car was wheeled onto the main straight, a beaming Joie III climbed into the seat, and Speedway Director of Photography Ron McQueeney began snapping pictures.
It became a lunch hour he'll never forget.
"How many people can say they work at the racetrack where their grandfather raced at?" he asked.
"Now I'm working here, getting my picture taken, getting to sit in his race car. It's just a great feeling. It makes me feel so good. We don't have that much memorabilia from his racing days. I can't wait for Ron to get these developed."
Joie Sr. drove in the Indy 500 in 1940-41 and from 1946-50. He died at age 73 in 1988 when Joie III was a freshman at the University of Florida.
"My grandfather was kind of different than my dad," Joie III said.
"He was a tough old man. He used to show off his scars. He was just a tough old man."
When the grandson was young, the senior Chitwood would bring him to the Speedway where he spent the month of May mostly visiting with other old-timers. Joie III cherishes those times.
"I got to meet drivers like Cowboy O'Rourke and Duke Nalon, and hear then tell stories," he said. "They were funny stories. I remember them telling one story about a riding mechanic. He ran 20 laps (until the car pitted), got out of the car, went straight to the airport and was never seen again.
"When they honored the 1946 starting lineup, he took a ride around the track and I got to ride with him. People were hollering, 'Hey, drive on two wheels.'"
Joie Sr. would spend summers in Charlotte, N.C., but when the thrill show would stop in Springfield, Mass., or Reading, Pa., he would, as his grandson put, kind of just show up.
Joie III is 29 now and involved in office job of administration. But with the name Chitwood, he had no choice as a youngster but to be part of the thrill show tour. The family operated out their hometown of Tampa, Fla.
"I did everything but the rocket jump," Joie III said. "Two wheels, precision driving, reverse spins and some car crashes."
When he was 5, his career began with driving a Chevette go-kart and spinning it. At 8, he stepped up to a mini Indy car and at 12 began driving the Chevette over ramps. The crashing came when he was about 17. "I'd get out of school, go on the road and come home the day before school started," he said.
"When I was 16 I got a brand new Camaro Z28. I was all fired up to get my friends and ride around. A couple of the parents wouldn't let them ride with me. I told them I was the safest driver around. I get to do the crazy stuff in the thrill show."
In '92, he earned a finance degree and wasn't certain what he wanted to do. So he went to grad school at University of South Florida and got his master's degree in business administration.
"I didn't know what a retired thrill show driver should do," he said with a laugh.
One thing he did do was fire off two resumes, one to Tony George, president of the Speedway, and the other to NASCAR chief Bill France. He received a return letter from George stating someone would contact him.
Jack Long, then administrator for the Indy Racing League, interviewed Chitwood in August 1995, and hired him for December-January 1996, for Orlando. In February, Long brought him to Indianapolis for another interview and offered him a full-time job. Joie's wife, Susan, was agreeable to the move from Florida, and he took on the challenging assignment. The league was exactly one race old.
"One thing," he said, "I figured there were not many people out there who had been to three-fourths of the tracks in the U.S.A."
He handles duties like credentials, entries, points and prize money, and acts as the liaison between league officials and the drivers and teams.
Chitwood's father and uncle continue to run the thrill show, doing about 100 shows each year between June and October. The thrill show remains popular but not as much as the past.
"It could be the thrill show doesn't pack the same enthusiasm that it used to," Joie III said. "They were driving on two wheels 30 years ago and still are today. I think the thrill show will come to an end."
But to Joie III, the thrill of sitting in his grandfather's race car will never come to an end.