Jake Elder: The Traveling Crew Chief

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“Suitcase” Jake Elder operated out of a suitcase and in the shadows. At one point, he jumped to three different teams over a 4-month period. But he was a crew chief extraordinaire, making the careers of many top NASCAR drivers. He died Wednesday in his native Statesville, NC, at 73, after suffering a stroke in 2006 and remaining in failing health.

Just ask Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Fred Lorenzen, Mario Andretti, or A.J. Foyt (USAC stock cars) who put them on track. It was Elder, who also worked his magic for the late Benny Parsons and rookie Dale Earnhardt Sr. He worked for Petty Enterprises 1963-64 before the Chrysler boycott. While with Petty, Richard won 23 races and his first Cup Series championship.

His 1960s Ford involvement came through Holman-Moody. In 1972, Elder spent time with Roger Penske and driver Mark Donohue.

“Suitcase” wasn’t one to seek out media exposure. Instead of going to the press box with his winning driver and car owner, he would be in the garage thinking about the next race on the calendar. Jake was king of chassis set-up, not prince of publicity. He built top- flight race cars, and tutored his young drivers. His dynamics surfaced on the race track.

At the beginning of the 1979 season, Jake was on with Buddy Baker, who already had the dynamic but aging Herb Nab on board. The two literal geniuses were friends, but clashed, so Suitcase packed up.

Elder, who was given his nickname by Waltrip, did not have a formal education, and never intended to make racing his career. By chance, he was a good welder who was sought-out in the mid-1950s by a local racer at Hickory, NC, and his future path became defined.

Jake “Suitcase” Elder was all business about the business of winning race cars. He didn’t allow time for BS, and those who did would quickly find themselves clashing with him. Jake was all about old school. He was as much a winner as his cars, and will be sorely missed.

All aboard, Suitcase Jake has respectfully moved on.

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