It's hard to believe, but there was a time when auto thrill shows drew larger crowds than NASCAR races. Spectators packed rickety wooden grandstands to watch daring young men in spiffy white uniforms do the "slide for life" or the "T-bone crash," to drive cars on two wheels, or to jump cars or motorcycles from ramp to ramp. In the late 1950s as many as 29 stunt shows - including Jack Kochman's Hell Drivers, Joie Chitwood's Tournament of Thrills, and Jimmy Lynch's Death Dodgers - toured the country.
Joie Chitwood's Indianapolis
ThrillShow - Sport
An heir to the legendary daredevil act finds a place in the Brickyard's front office. (Hey, Joie, keep your helmet close by.)
The 2005 racing season was Joie Chitwood III's first as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it seemed at times to mimic the famous automotive daredevil and stunt show his grandfather brought to America's heartland a half-century ago, particularly when Bernie Ecclestone arrived last June with his clown act and presented a six-car precision-driving exhibition instead of the Formula 1 race he had promised.
All three major Indy events were indeed spectacles, with the rotten meat in the middle sandwiched by Danica Patrick's sensational rookie performance in the Indy 500 and the heartwarming win by Indiana's own Tony Stewart in the Brickyard 400. It was fortunate for Chitwood that NASCAR runs an efficient, low-maintenance turnkey operation, because he was preoccupied most of the summer with the high-maintenance Europeans and a frenzied effort to recover from the greatest auto-racing fiasco of modern times, when 14 of 20 cars refused to run the June 19 Formula 1 race because of problems with their Michelin tires. Nine days later, Michelin offered refunds to ticket holders, and Joel Scott "Joie III" Chitwood, 36, tackled the formidable logistical challenge with the relentless zeal that he brings to all his endeavors. On July 15, IMS unveiled its plan, with most ticket holders simply receiving a credit to their accounts. "I have to applaud Michelin for stepping up," Chitwood said in late July. "Obviously, that's the only organization that has stepped up so far."
The Europeans—the FIA sanctioning body and Formula 1 itself—played a shell game in July that ultimately concluded that no one was to blame for the June farce except the state of Indiana, which has a law on the books that prohibits anyone from knowingly putting someone at risk, and thus meant that the boycotting teams "could have faced serious legal difficulties" had they raced, according to the FIA.
The most striking irony of the debacle was the profound lack of control that Chitwood and IMS CEO Tony George had in the matter. They seemed utterly powerless. It was a point that Chitwood underscored in a stone-faced press conference after the event. "The fact we had no control over what occurred today is our greatest disappointment," he confessed.
George is so much about control that he's been in the middle of a debilitating open-wheel racing war that's gone on for almost a decade now so he can control the speedway and the Indy 500. At the same time, he spent about $40 million to carve out a Formula 1 road course at the speedway, and he spends about $15 million a year to bring over Bernie and the gang once a year, hand them the keys, and submit to a trashing fit for a spring-break hotel room.
In 2004, the speedway's vaunted reputation for speedy, efficient crash response took a hit in the wake of the excruciatingly slow response of the Formula 1 rescue team after Ralf Schumacher"s crash in the banked Turn 13 (Turn One on the oval). The 2005 debacle was spawned by a tire failure that sent Schumacher back into the same wall, same turn. Neither the rescue controversy nor the race boycott was viewed as the speedway's fault, since it had no control.
Back in the day, a crustier promoter, someone in the mold of an Earl Baltes, would have stopped the proceedings cold by blocking the track with tow trucks or locking the gates to keep those rascals in until they settled up fair. Chitwood's carny background would seem to make him the perfect candidate for that kind of modern-day character—someone in the mold of a Bill France Sr., who at the age of 59, in reaction to a boycott by drivers over perceived safety concerns, strapped on a helmet and ran 175 mph at Talladega. Chitwood, however, is all about management professionalism and polish, enhanced by an abundance of enthusiasm and backed by an MBA degree from the University of South Florida that included a summer studying history at Queens College at Cambridge, England. The only thing Chitwood controlled on June 19 was himself, and he did a commendable job of that.
"Well, obviously, in the short span of seven months since I was promoted to president in December, we've had some very good highs and some very bad lows," Chitwood said. He is known, however, for resilience. He has been bounced around before, mostly as a third-generation stunt performer in his grandfather's thrill show, spending his teenaged summers as the "Human Battering Ram," and living with a name that was a result of a typographical error.Joie's grandfather was born George Rice Chitwood on April 14, 1912, the day before the Titanic sank, and did not become "Joie" until he was 25. The first Chitwood had already raced the full season of 1936 under his real name when he entered the Central States Racing Association series in 1937, driving a sprint car owned by the Lawhon brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri. As Chitwood told the story in Safe at Any Speed: The Joie Chitwood Story, the CSRA press agent, Norm Witte, wrote a news release about him without knowing his first name: "He saw the Lawhon Special with St. Joe, Missouri, written on it, and needing to get the story into the evening paper, he wrote down the name Joe Chitwood. When the story was typeset at the newspaper, the name came out 'Joie.'" Chitwood had no idea where his new name had come from until Witte introduced himself the next day, but he did not object. Nor did he protest when Witte, on seeing Chitwood's dark complexion, immediately pronounced him a full-blooded Cherokee Indian and fashioned a PR scam that persisted for years. His nickname was "the Chief.
... again in this great American tradition with the exhilarating roar of a great American automobile in what is guaranteed to be a “Tournament of thrills.” ...
47 sec - 8 Aug 2008 -
... thrill shows like Joie Chitwood and the Tournament of Thrills. ... ... My stunt cars were purchased from an auto parts salvage yard for ...
These photos are from Tommy
"Creepo" Chapman's collection:
With his face on. Creepo was for numerous years the producing clown on the Tournament of Thrills. His thrill show career of 20 years started with Buddy Wagner and than for many many years with the Tournament working with such greats as Buzz Bundy, Jimmy Canton, Bumps Willard and many more. Creepo worked with the first stuntman that ever came out of Maine. The late Bob LaBay from the Portland area.
Creepo riding on his scooter with his Bucking Model T in the background on the Tournament of Thrills Stunt Show.
Creepo performing his first automobile roll-over in Dover, Delaware in 1954.
Who is this tall gentlemen with Creepo?
Profile on Tom (Creepo The Clown) Chapman!
To begin this profile it is important to know of an event that happened in my younger years. Every year our school gave
every student a free pass to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto Ontario Canada. This also included a free
pass to see the Jack Kochman Hell Drivers at the stadium went every year with my friend, when I was about 13 years old My
neighbor Archie Cunningham(who lived next door) Said he had met some of the daredevils and had become quite friendly
with them, so much so that he had an invitation to a show and to bring his children. It would be to see a show and to go
backstage and meet some of daredevils. To my surprise Archie’s friend was non other than George Patton. We were only
there for about an hour as George had to fly to Syracuse N.Y. to perform in a night show that very evening. and then fly back
for another show in Toronto the next day. We had a very good visit Sat in the Jump Car, Met Neil Hamilton and King Kovas
(Jasper the Jerk). The treated us all really nice. And we had many things to tell all our friends in the months that followed…..
Now lets jump ahead about four years…
In 1953 my brother john joined a thrillshow called the Joie Chitwood Auto Daredevils when it performed at Pinecrest
Speedway in Toronto. The next May John asked me if I wanted to go to Philadelphia with him. As I was not working I said
Yes. We hitchhiked to Philadelphia…found out that the show was on the road… We hitchhiked to Lynchburg Va., and
joined the show. I got a job as a ramphand. We done lots of still dates, and I learned everything I could and done anything
that was asked of me.
The year was 1954…Joie Chitwood had some kind of disagreement with the owners of the show and he struck out on
his own. He ended up making a deal with GM the Chevrolet division Where he was very successful for many many years.
At that time to the best of my knowledge there were 9 shows touring the nation. They were:
Tournament of Thrills They had three units:
Tournament of Thrills …Philadelphia PA Owner ..Jack Beck …Showname… ToT or Stunt Capades
Manager & announcer … Buddy Wagner …Track Boss Bob Labay
Stuntmen …Buzz Bundy… Buddy Brooks, Bob Kelly, Dick Cobb Bobby Brooks
Clowns: John(Crash) Chapman, Happy Knapp, later that year, Tommy ( Creepo) Chapman
Tournament of Thrills … Chicago Ill. … Showname …Transworld Auto Daredevils
Manager: Earl Newberry: …announcer Leo Overland …..Track Boss .. Al Gross
Stuntmen …Bumps Willert …Hal Kent …Jimmy Canton
Clown: …….Wimpy from London England
Tournament of Thrills ….. Los Angeles …Owner Bill MaGaw… Showname…Hollywood Helldrivers
Announcer … Fred Kenny … Track Boss .. Don Chadwick …
Stuntmen: ….. Harry Woolman …Mike Kelly …Don Hill … Clown: … Smiley the Clown.
Jack Kochman Hell Drivers ….Patterson New Jersey
Stuntmen: …George Patton, …Neil Hamilton
Clown: …King " Jasper" the Jerk Kovas
These are all the show personnel I can remember at this time
The other shows I remember in the 50s are:
Irish Horan ….Rotroffs All Girl Thrill Show …Aut Swenson … B. Ward Beam … and The Joie Chitwood. Show.
So as time went by I got the urge to try my hand at stunts. Through this time Bob Labay became a real close friend and my
mentor. Advising me on the different aspects of stuntwork. But he wouldn’t let me do any stunts. In late may we were doing
a show in Sandusky Ohio My brother John found out my mom was visiting friends in Cleveland…So he dropped by and
brought her to see the show…then he went to Bob, and pleaded with him to let me do something in front of my mom. After a
lot of thought he agreed to let me do a stunt…"OHH BOY…MY FIRST STUNT" They chose the Human Battering Ram….
After taking instructions…I got on the hood of the car (a 1937 pick-up truck). Everything went fine…Except there was no
radiator Cap and while going through the burning wall…My nose got pushed into the radiator hole…..O-BOY ---O-BOY…
I done my first stunt…BUT….I broke my Nose…..A minute later I was walking by Bob holding a handkerchief over my
bleeding nose and he smiled and said…… "WELCOME TO SHOW BIZZ".
In the weeks that followed I harassed Bob to do other things…anything…I wanted to be a stuntman….So he let me do:…
The Slide for Life …and finally The roll-over, which was always my favorite . After weeks of bugging Bob, he put me in
Dover Delaware…Now I wanted to be a Hell Driver but he said I was too young and that the boss said I was too young
no amount of whining would change that. So I started helping my brother John in some of his clown acts…it was fun. Then
one day Buddy Wagner & Bob Labay took me aside and asked if I would like to try clowning. I said I wanted to be a Stuntman…
But buddy said "There are Hundreds of unemployed Stuntmen, ,good clowns are always in demand and you could make a
real good living as a clown….and I will give you a substantial raise if you work out"…Reluctantly I said yes.. Oh …it wasn’t a SUBSTANIAL RAISE.
My first test was at Pitman NJ …I was very nervous
I remember getting on makeup the first time.. John had to do it for me as I didn’t have a clue as to how to do it. I was scared to
death of going out and having to speak in front of all those people….My first joke was…"The Beaura" Gag. But John was right
there encouraging me…So I done the joke and walked off the track…. I new that this was what I wanted to do….
So over the next few years I studied hard and lots of entertainers shared thing and gave me lots of advice …I will always be
grateful for all the help they gave me.
Then one year( I can’t remember which one)We were to do a show at Harrington Delaware…We had a couple of days off and
went to the next date and there was a Kochman show there. So I went up to one of the cars with someone in it…taped on the window…Guess Who rolled down the window….. George Patton….I was shocked….He didn’t know who I was naturally…
But I told him the story of coming back stage when I was 13….We had a real good visit…he was still a real nice guy .
The downside in the above paragraph is……2 or 3 years later, and I cannot remember he year or the date… We had
finished a show ,,,and was driving to our next date we were in a convoy….3 trucks and several cars, going through a tiny little
town, and who is coming from the other direction…..The Jack Kochman Show…we were like two ships that pass in the night
but we all started blinking our lights and pulled over for a visit (We were competitors…but still friends)…We shook hands they
all looked terrible…and it turns our just a few short hours before… George Patton had been killed doing the Ramp to Ramp Jump…
They were al devastated…..They had the Jump Car on a trailer covered with a tarp .We couldn’t even bear to go look at it …..
We were all saddened by thew loss.
In 1956 some friends of mine were contacted by some representatives of Juan Peron ( President of Argentina) He wanted to
bring a Thrill show to Argentina.. When asked if I would like to go I jumped at the chance. I got my shots, and flew to Portland
Maine Bob LaBay’s Hometown to wait for the tickets to arrive. Bob was the one that got me to go. But he also said I could do
some stuntwork if I wanted to.. Well we waited for the tickets but they never came…seems Juan Peron was exiled or something…
In 1957 a importer was interested to bring us to Buenos Aires…We didn’t want to get our hopes up and reluctantly agreed
once again. The importer sent some people to New York City,, to buy some used cars for us to wreck. They also bought and
had sent down 6 brand new Ford Fairlane Convertibles and 1 1956 Ford Victoria. We each had a new car …no one drove
them but us..The thing that makes this funny is that ..the importer was a millionaire and his car was a 1949 Monarch/Mercury.
the whole country is 10 years behind in the auto importing…So we find out later……We were there for about three months…
doing our shows demolishing cars like normal….Then we find out the real reason the importer…needed us…His idea was to
import 150 used cars…all newer than what they have down there…But…instead of letting us demolish 4 cars a show…..they
started to pull back on the cars for crash work… And he wanted to keep all the cars he could and sell them down there at an enormous profit…I think we got to trash about 40 – 50 cars they got to the point that instead of bringing us the good cars to roll & dive bomb…they would bring some of they that had been used in other shows…we would use them for catch-cars …leaving
them to keep the remaining 100 or so cars that they could sell for $ 10-20.000 ea. plus he would take our brand new convertibles
for himself .It was a good deal for all…I got to do more crash work…done 6 Dive bombers….we made good money… all expenses paid….and the promoter got rich.
On the way home we were in a plane crash and had to spend 6 days in Guayaquil Ecuador at the airlines expense It was nothing serious the front wheel collapsed …Life was good. During the off season…Buddy Wagner and I discussed a new deal for me…I wanted more money…he said No…I guess my head had gotten a little large….I thought I was a International Star…So I retired…
In July of 1958 The Wagner Show played a still date at the CNE in Toronto ( The one place I had always wanted to perform…
and never ever got to) I went to the show and visited with some people I new…Bill Ward…Buzz Bundy …Fred Gates (Rebel)…
After the show was over Bill Ward and I sat in his car and chatted. He said that he had been in Philadelphia and had a chat
with Jack Beck .He had said that Buddy Wagner was leaving the Tournament of Thrills and offered Bill a show for the eastern
unit…Bill asked me if I would be interested in coming out of retirement. I told him I might be but I would want more money..
My own car and a few other perks that I thought I would never get….A few weeks later Bill called and said that he and Jack had made a deal and all of my demands were met….And Jack had 3 weeks of dates that Buddy Wagner could not do and he wanted
to put the show together , and finish the season to honor the contracts. So I packed my bags and went to Philadelphia to start a
new show. Everything went real good. Jack Beck had to announce our first couple of shows….He told me two things after the
show..1. He liked the way I worked… 2. And that he was a legitimate employer, and that everyone had to be legal. He said he
would get me a working visa and all taxes would have to be paid. In other shows we were hired on as Independent Contractors
and you had to do your own taxes etc. But for all the years I worked for Jack…He always got my visa…done me income tax return…..He was quite a guy and a good friend… Jack and Bill decided to change my clown name ( I was always called Pee-Wee) , they said there were too many Pee –Wee’s ….So that’s how I got the name "CREEPO". He also said that he would like to get some fresh clown acts together and if I ever thought of anything ..just call and we could talk about it .So I did…
In 1959 we started our first season…and was very successful. I got the Broom Act at Kanters in Phila…at a cost of around
$ 500.00And over the next few years we purchased other props… two clown cars… one was a Bucking Model T clown car that
we bought from a Rodeo Clown who had retired…The car was $ 2500.00…plus $ 1500.00 for the trailer to haul it. When we were
in Japan in 1963 Toyota also gave us a small Toyapette that we brought back to the USA. Then Bill had another car built in Florida which was two fronts of car bodies were cut in half and both fronts were welded together with two sterringwheels.(nobody new if
we were coming or going)So all in all Jack was a good owner …he wasn’t afraid to spend money on something that would improve the show…But sometimes it was hard to sell him on some things….I was real upset with him in 1959 when I dropped in to see him and
he said he had some mail for me…Included was a letter from the U.S. Social Security…Enclosed was a Social Security card for me
He then told me that starting next week I would have to pay Social Security every week …I just couldn’t see any sense to that.
I am going to jump ahead to 1998…I was 62 and totally retired … We were spending our winters in Florida…I was looking
through my wallet and found my SS card…I had heard that age 62 was when you could apply for benefits…So I sat down and figured out that in all the years I had paid into SS I probably put in a total of…& 250.00. I decided to give them a call and see what
my status was…They were very nice and asked me to come to Clearwater for an interview…They filled out all the information…
and sent it in ( Figured they would end up giving me back the money I had put in $ 250.00 ,and refuse my claim) A few weeks
later I got letter saying my claim was still under review and it was refused at this time. Oh well I tried. I was still peeved with Jack
A year and a half later I went to check my mail and there was a letter from SS…I opened it and it said.." Under further review
your claim has been approved " enclosed please find a check in the amount of $ 1138.00…retroactive to 1998 and that I would be receiving a monthly SS check every month. Well you know Jack Beck was a real smart man after all..
Over the years , I was very lucky to have worked with and known many of the Owners. and finest stuntmen and clowns in
the Thrill Show World. Here are the names of just a few of the many.
Bob La Bay, Bill Ward. Buzz Bundy, Don Chadwick, Dick Cobb, Al Gross, Bumps Willert, Jimmy Canton, Hal Kent,
Pete Groce, Denny Dearbone, Fred (Reble) Gates , Harry Woolman Chet Hunnicutt …George Patton, Neil Hamilton And many more over the years.
Johnny (Crash) Chapman), The Roberts Family Gaylord Maynard, Happy Knapp,Smiley Burnett , Ford Wand, Jerry Caldwell,
and many more.
Show Owners and Managers:
Jack Beck ,Bill MaGaw, Buddy Wagner, Joie Chitwood, Leo Overland, Jack Kochman, King Kovaz, Chester Rotroff,
B.Ward Beam, Irish Horan, Also many more
As I didn’t actually work for any of the Canadian Thrill shows, I had on many occasions met with quite a few of them.
Big Names in Entertainment..
As we were all in Show Biz…Traveled throughout the US and many other country’s around the world, It goes without
saying that we all met many that were very famous entertainers and some that were not.
Here are some of the people that I have met and have talked to over my career of some 20 years
Jane Mansfield, John Aston, Michael Landon, Jock Mahoney, and my favorite Chuck Connors….
I had the occasion to remeet Chuck a year after we worked together in Philadelphia. He was doing a show in Madison Wis. and Bill Ward and I dropped in to see him backstage…It was the closing night and they had a party for all the entertainers ..Chuck invited us and we accepted. During the party I had said that my mom was a real big fan of "The Rifleman" and that we never missed watching the show when I was home later I was going to leave, I told him I had to go and call my mom cause she was sick and I just wanted to check on her. He asked me if I wanted him to say hello to her… Would You I asked….he followed me to my room I called home talked awhile and then told her who wanted say hello to her…course she didn’t believe me. He said hello ..and really unexpectedly he talked to her longer than I did….WHAT A GREAT GUY. I am sure there are others are that thoughtful …but he is special to me and my mom,
Country Music Friends:
People I met over the years at the hundreds of fairs we performed at Not a bad one in the bunch.
Gene Autry, Jimmy Dean, Roy Acuff, Conway Twitty, Jean Shepard, George Hamilton IV, Leroy VanDyke, Minnie Pearl, String Bean,
Many stories are in all the people I met over the years. All are great entertainers ,Showmen…But mostly just plain nice people.
I had a Super Great Career 1954 to 1974. I enjoyed every minute of it.. I have got to travel to many countries of the world’ Canada USA, Cuba, Chile,Argentina,Montivedeo,Japan Okinawa, and even a visit to Hawaii.
I have put away the Grease Paint, The Clown Clothes and my props…. But I will never ever put away my memories, nor all the friends I have had over the years.