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George “Joie” Chitwood built a race car in 1934…
…when he was working in a welding shop in Topeka, Kansas. Fresh out of the Navy, where he learned to weld; the car was for a customer but a project he loved. Several weeks after the car was finished the regular driver did not show up. The owner of the car asked Joie if he wanted to try driving it. As a 22 year old, he won his first race at a dirt track in Winfield KS. After a couple of years, he honed his skill and a race promoter dubbed him “Joe” Chitwood when he misread the entry list. He was living in St Joe, Missouri at the time and the name stuck.
In 1939, after winning several more dirt track Championships in the East and Midwest, Joie was able to pass his rigorous drivers test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He did not participate his first Indy 500 until 1940. He started in 26th and was able to finish a respectable 15th.
In 1941 he was the first driver to wear a seat belt in the 500. In total he drove in 7 Indy 500 races 1940-1950 less 3 years off for WW2. Joie finished in the top 5 three times. During the war years gas and tires were rationed for the war effort and racing was banned. In the late 30’s and early 40’s Joie became friends with the first great American auto stunt driver, Lucky Teter. Unfortunately Lucky was killed on July 4, 1942 while attempting a World record 170 foot ramp to ramp jump.
In the last of the war years, Joie got the idea to buy the remaining ramps and cars from lucky Teter’s widow. Many trial and error jumps and crashes later Joie perfected most of the Teter auto stunts. After the war; racing resumed and Chitwood along with his racing started the Joie Chitwood “Hell Drivers”. He devoted his efforts to both projects and in 1949 he was featured in a Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyke MGM film entitled “To Please a Lady”. It was a takeoff on Joie’s life when a race driver left racing to join the Joie Chitwood Auto Stunt Show.
In the late 40’s auto racing was a very deadly sport with many top drivers and friends fatally injured. Marie, Joie’s wife finally convinced him to retire from racing in 1950. He drove only 2 races that year the Indy 500 and the Sept. race at the new Darlington one mile track. Joie finished 5th in both events. The popular Clark Gable movie put the Chitwood Stunt Show on the map. The Thrill Show went on to field 5 traveling shows, covering all 48 lower states in the early 50’s. Joie Jr. started in the Thrill Show at age 5. Riding with Joie Sr. in some of the stunts and riding his ‘world’s first mini bike”.
In 1965 Joie Jr took over the business and gave his Dad a much deserved slower schedule. Tim Chitwood, the younger son also started driving at the early age of 14. Tim went on to get his Engineering degree at the University of Florida. Tim graduated and the Chitwood brothers each had a show and they did about 200 shows a year at the State and County fairs and leading speedways in the US. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s the Chitwood brothers followed in their father’s footsteps.
The movie industry also came calling as the chase scenes and car stunts became popular in the big movies. James Bond’s “Live and Let Die then many more including TV’s “CHIPS and Miami Vice”. Over 60 movies, commercials, TV shows and documentaries.
The Chitwoods also tested highway guardrails and break-a-way signs and light poles that are still used on Interstate Highways today. A third Chitwood, Joie 111 joined the troupe in the 80’s and was a vital part of the family tradition.
As traveling expenses, insurances, and payroll continued to grow sponsorships were harder to find and the Thrill Show was unable to stay on the road. The final tour year was 1998.
Where are they now?
Joie III continued his college education at Florida and USF and received a Master’s degree in Finance. He was hired by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after being the President of the Chicagoland Speedway for several years. He later worked his way up to President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Seven years later he was able to return to his native State of Florida as President of The Daytona International Speedway. He is now Executive VP and Brand Manager of Arnold Palmer Foundation in Bay Hill, FL
A retired Joie Jr, age 73, has a new passion for collecting, buying and selling vintage scale race cars , racing memorabilia and Thrill Show memorabilia. Joie Jr. features over 200 items on EBay. Featured items on here on this Website over 150 items.
Tim has come out of retirement to perform in about 25 abbreviated but thrilling stunt shows a year at Speedways with his Disney stuntman friend Chris Moreno. Sad to report Tim passed in Oct. 2015 from complications of a heart procedure.
Joie IV is a well-grounded just turned teenager, and is looking forward to his first car. Got his Drivers License Feb. 2017