I remember going to the Joie Chitwood Chevy Thunder Show (also know as the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show) as a kid. This was years before I was able to drive and probably not the best thing for a kid who was already salivating at the thought of getting a drivers license someday. That’s because these drivers were out-of-their-freaken-mind! In the first video below this post they use terms like precision driving, alignment and skill to describe the driver stunts. Where as I think most people would use the term Crazy! These death-defying drivers were jumping over cars, jumping into cars (not by accident, but on purpose), driving through fire (with a person on the hood) and driving long distances on the two side wheels of the car. All this with stock Chevy cars.
The show certainly instilled a memory in my mind that I carry with me to this day some 20+ years later. I still have a brochure from the show I attended, which was signed by one of the Chitwood brothers. However, I wasn’t the only one for which the show instilled a lasting memory. Apparently, it did the same for a youngster named Robert “Evel” Knievel. Evel Knevel attended the Joie Chitwood show in 1953 and at that moment knew he wanted to be a stuntman. As many of you know Evel Knevel went on to become the greatest motorcycle stuntman of all time. He also toured with the show for a number of years.
The traveling thrill show took place at many different locations throughout the United States and Canada. The one I saw was in Upstate New York at the Fonda Fair just outside of Johnstown. The thrill show became so popular that at one time it was broadcast on nation wide television. It was also featured in the Clark Gable movie “To Please a Lady”, James Bond’s “Live And Let Die” and in an episode of both Chips and Miami Vice.
Lucky Teter was the original owner of the thrill stunt show, but passed away while attempting a 125-foot car jump during a show in 1942. The car Lucky was driving had a misfire in the engine and came up short on the landing. That goes to show the devastating dangers that come with the stunts. Joie Chitwood Sr. purchased the thrill show from the widow of Lucky in 1943. From there the Joie Chitwood thrill show was born with its first performance taking place on July 4th 1943 in Pennsylvania. Joie’s stunt show continued on for over fifty years with his son’s (Joie II, Joie III and Tim Chitwood) taking over once Joie Sr. retired. At one point it was common for live shows to have over 100,000 fans in attendance. The stunt show lasted until 1998. I guess like so many cool things of the past the show faded away.
During his run, Joie Sr. was both a driver in the stunt show and also a professional race car driver. He is credited with being the first driver to ever wear a seat belt in the Indianapolis 500. Joie Sr. competed in the prestigious Indianapolis 500 seven different times and finished in the top five on three occasions. Joie II also became a professional race car driver with appearances at Daytona and Sebring. He contributed to countless television shows, commercials and films. Tim Chitwood owns the title of “World’s Number One Ranked Stunt Man” He also holds the world record for driving an American made automobile on two wheels for the longest distance. He drove a Chevrolet for 5.9 miles on its side two wheels. Joie III is no slouch either. He started performing stunts in the thrill show at the age of five. Plus, he is currently the president of the Daytona International Speedway and sits on the board of trustees for the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Joie Chitwood Thrill Show Documentary
1956 Chevrolet Joie Chitwood Thrill Show Commercial
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