By Joe Dunn
At the age of 5, he was performing on the track doing 180° spins in a ‘Corvette’ Go Kart, working with the Clown acts of his grandfather’s Auto Thrill Show. By the time he was in high school, he was driving on two wheels, wrecking cars in sidewinder crashes and doing the Human Battering Ram. He is Joie Chitwood III, named after his grandfather George Chitwood, who was professionally known as Joie. Joie Chitwood III was named this week as the new Vice President of Business Operations for International Speedway Corporation, the racetrack side of the France (NASCAR) family business.
Racing goes back a long ways in the Chitwood family, George Chitwood began his racing career at a dirt track in Winfield, Kansas in 1934. When he entered the Central States Racing Association series in 1937, driving a sprint car owned by the Lawhon brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri 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’ and the name stuck for the rest of his racing and later Thrill Show years. Joie competed in seven Indianapolis 500’s in the 40’s, he starting the Joie Chitwood Auto thrill Shows in 1943 and balanced between racing and the Thrill Show until 1950 when he retired from racing and made the Thrill Show a full time business.
Sons Joie Jr and Tim followed in dad’s footsteps working for and later running the Thrill Show. Joie Jr’s son, Joie III joined in the show as he was growing up. As a kid growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in rural western New York, I was one of those kids that anxiously awaited the county fair each year as the Chitwood show came to the town performing 4 and sometimes 5 shows during the 9 day fair. I never got to see Joie III perform, but I was disappointed when I learned of the show’s closing in 1998., after being enjoyed by an estimated 30 million people over it’s 55 year span.
Joie III served as Vice president and General manager of Raceway Associates, the firm that oversaw the construction of the Chicagoland Speedway from 1999- 2002. In October of 2002 he was hired as senior Vice President of Business Affairs at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and was promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer of IMS in December of 2004, a position he held until this latest move to ISC.
Chitwood replaces W. Grant Lynch, who assumes the title of Chairman of Talladega Speedway and Vice President ISC Strategic Projects. With his background in the auto racing and promotion field, I would look for Chitwood to be a real asset to the NASCAR world.