Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Driving Like Joie/Joey Chitwood

It came as a great, pleasant surprise to see the name "Joie Chitwood" in the Indianapolis media a few years ago. While my enthusiasm endured, it took me more than a couple of years to make contact with Mr. Chitwood (of the International Speedway Corporation).

It turns out that it was his grandfather who was the subject of our cry, "He's driving like Joey Chitwood!" whenever we'd see someone speeding along the highway (two lanes, pre-Interstate). It wasn't until I saw the grandson's name in a newspaper that I discovered my childhood hero "Joey" was actually "Joie." But, from the info that Joie Chitwood III sent to me, it turns out that "Joie" wasn't his real name, anyway, but, once it was given to him, mistakenly by, of all things, "a press agent" from Indiana, it stuck.

I know I could cry out to people who remembered county and state fairs of earlier decades, including my sisters, "Joie Chitwood!" upon spying a faster-than-polite driver and they'd laugh, not having to have it explained to them. We had shortened it from "He's driving like...." simply to his name. That's all we needed. And, it had to be done in context. You couldn't just be sitting in a neighbor's living room, staring at "Hit Parade" on TV and suddenly cry out, "Joie Chitwood." No, there were rules. You had to be on the road, the person being chastised had to be racing along, daredevil-like, and, preferably, they had to be driving a beaten-up auto, not unlike the ones that you-know-who-by-now raced in his thrill shows that we'd see at the fairgrounds.

According to Joie the Third, the "Joie Chitwood Thrill Show" lasted from 1943 to 1998, a decade past the death of the first Joie.

It was truly a thrill to watch the drivers do all sorts of daredevil turns and twists, cars sailing over one another, people in the grandstands screaming and jumping up, expecting the worst, but almost never seeing it (luckily), in this demonstration of racing that seemed to defy gravity, common sense, and death, all at the same time.

I am tempted today to yell at a reckless driver, whether I'm in another car or even just standing on a street corner, "Joey (OK, Joie) Chitwood!" It would accomplish two things: Stares and wrinkled noses from those of a certain age and immediate laughter and perhaps a "Oh, I haven't heard that one for a while!" from those of an older, very certain age.