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“Thrill Drivers Choice” Joie Chitwood and the 1956 Chevrolet

George “Joie” Chitwood started his career behind the wheel in the mid-thirties racing sprint cars in the midwest. The Driver won the AAA Sprint Car Championship in 1939 and ’40 and the CRSA (Central State Racing Association based in Sacramento, CA) Championship in 1942. Chitwood also competed in the Indianapolis 500 seven times between 1940 to ’50, finishing as high as fifth three times.

For a time he was a Hollywood stunt driver and appeared in a minor role in “To Please a Lady” starring Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck in the 1950 film about auto racing.

Chitwood then started a “Hell Drivers” thrill show, which he ran in a very professional manner and developed it into the very popular and successful “Joie” Chitwood Thrill Show (1945 to ’98.) His act became so popular and polished that it led to the team being selected to perform on ABC “Wide World of Sports” in 1967.

This film “Thrill Drivers Choice” was a Chevrolet promotion, were Chitwood and the Thrill Drivers demonstrate the handling capabilities and durability of the 1956 Chevrolet. Take a few minutes to watch it, as is professionally done, quite interesting and entertaining.


17 responses to ““Thrill Drivers Choice” Joie Chitwood and the 1956 Chevrolet

  1. Thanks for the memories! My high school driver’s training car was a 4 door 1956 Chevrolet although the course was different that was Chitwood’s.

  2. As a immature sixteen year old high schooler I was allowed to drive my dad’s 1956 210 V-8 station wagon. I shudder to think of the abuse I, and subsequently my little brother subjected that car to. At 80, after owning and driving countless cars, I still believe the 1956 Chevrolet was the best car ever to be offered by Detroit.

    • I understand your affection for the ’56, Jerry. In college I had a ’56 Bel Air 4-door Stovebolt, and later a ’56 Bel Air 2-door V-8 hardtop. I’ve had many beautiful and superbly performing cars since then, but that yellow and gold hardtop is the one I still miss.

  3. I remember my old man or my uncle, taking us to Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis to see Joie Chitwood. I believe in the mid 60’s they were using Novas. I thought I read somewhere, they WERE modified, with welded rear ends and stiffer springs. Naturally, as kids, monkey see, monkey do, and upon returning home, we had to set up ramps and jumps in the alley for our bikes. We took many a lump, but was all in good fun.

    • Saw Joie Chitwood at the Big E in West Springfield Mass. many times. Because the New England states are small in size, the Big E is called New England’s State Fair. My favorite was the slide for life and driving on 2 wheels. They stuck the show way out back in a small area. One year they had a pretty big accident where a car left the confines of that area. I don’t think anyone was hurt, and that may have been their last time at the Big E.

      Joie Chitwood III just announced his retirement from ISC (NASCAR).

  4. The introduction showed a small car on a trailer behind on of the Chevrolets. They probably covered it with a tarp because it wasn’t a Chevrolet, but what was it?

    I also wonder if these cars were really as claimed, totally stock (tires, wheels, shocks, springs, etc.).

  5. Joie Chitwood goes back to my beginnings with automobiles. After going to midget races in Freeport Long Island during the post-war years, my dad took the family to Deer Park race track for something different. The hell drivers driving the new 49 Fords. Once Islip speedway opened, we never traveled back to the other tracks , for Islip was our home. Joie came to Islip many times after that.

  6. That Mr. Chitwood must be the real deal, look he’s wearing a knit shirt, jodhpurs and riding boots just like Clyde Beatty. Good way to differentiate the boss from the staff. I have to say, most of those stunts look pretty tame today – like even I could do them. I notice in the jump from ramp to ramp, the car passing beneath goes thru well before the one doing the jump goes over.

    Rolling a car on the sand isn’t much of a test. I once bought a Saab 99 from a fellow racer whose wife had rolled it over in a snow bank which had caused her to develop an aversion to driving it. Other than the lumpy roof there was no damage and I drove home, as is, from Wisconsin. Along the way I did notice that the car had little power beyond what you might use in day to day sedate driving. Once I changed the oil and filter it performed normally. Could that really have been the fix?

    • The Chitwood video certainly brings back memories. I spent my youth at Grandmaw’s home in Bayshore, Long Island and got a chance to see Chitwood at Islip Speedway as well. It influenced a friend from there and I to try to repeat the drive through a wall of fire by doing the same in his parents driveway. Rather than wood we used cardboard for the wall and a homemade soapbox derby car. He wore a football helmet and there was a bucket of water I grabbed once I pushed him into the flaming wqll.
      Lucky for us nobody was home that day.

  7. Notice that once the sedan is rolled over on the beach, they don’t show it up close. Stopping the video, the front roof is crushed enough to have popped the windshield. Recalling the mangled ’56 Chevys I saw in junkyards after real world crashes, the fluff from the announcer is pretty sad.

    I recall seeing one of his shows at the Allegany County Fair in the late 1960’s. The mufflers were removed so there was plenty of noise to go with the stunt driving. Everyone left deafened and thoroughly coated with dust since they hadn’t watered down the track first.

  8. Dad bought a ’56 to replace our tired ’48, but still stuck with a Stove Bolt for power. I kind of inherited the beast after about 110,000 miles and ran around doing some crazy things like racing around on the dirt port ions of Mulholland Drive at night (bad brakes, bad shocks, tired engine made it all the more fun). Joie would have been proud. Sold it to a buddy at 130,000 miles and he chopped out a mid section reducing the WB (Chevy SWB???) for some unknown reason besides his skills with welding gear. Last I heard he got stuck joy riding in a graveyard one night. Probably faded away after that.

  9. Great film clip. I started with a ’56 (4) door in 1968. Unfortunately the road salt poured on Illinois Roads had taken it’s toll by that time on the body. It had a great running 265 with a powerglide transmission. I couldn’t afford the insurance on such a beater and sold it for $15 (yes – fifteen dollars). I was able to use my mothers Rambler American in winter and my motorcycles in the summer so life went on without the Chevy.

  10. I was in Spanish class in high school in early October 1955 when I happened to look out the window of North High school and noticed a car carrier loaded with 5 new 56 Chevrolets destined for Murphy Mahoney Chevrolet. I could not wait to get a better look at them after school before they went under wraps for their official public viewing later in the month.
    This was in north Denver Colorado. For those of you who might remember, “think Art Baker-TV pitchman.”

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