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Jake “Suitcase” Elders passes away

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February 2010
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Jake “Suitcase “ Elder has passed away at age 73…..

It is a sad day in NASCAR as one of the truly great crew chief’s has gone. His health has been failing since his stroke  in 2006 but this man was one of the true pioneers of the sport. He took dale Earnhardt Sr. to his rookie of the year title in 79. Elder was liked by almost everyone, he had the knack to make cars work… he 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. 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.

According to Roush, “Suitcase Jake” had one tape measure for short tracks, and one for long tracks. And Roush — who has a masters degree in scientific mathematics — swears the man could chase demons (real or imagined) from race cars.”And his tape measure, on the sides that didn’t have the numbers and the lines, he would put his felt-tip marker marks,” explains Roush. “And those would be things that he would use to check various places on the car for critical dimensions, that he’d worked out to be correct.”

“If you had a demon, if your team was beset by bad luck, he would bring his little bag of templates and stuff to check out a car with,” says Roush. “And he would go in and the guys would get out of his way, and he would make his adjustments, and when he was done, if there was a demon in there, he’d have it chased off. “ says Roush.

Elder starting working for Petty Enterprises  in 1960s as a fabricator.  Richard Petty  said that Elder didn’t engineer the cars, it was all off the cuff Petty said:

He’d put something on the car and say, ‘OK, now it’s right. Here, you go drive it. And don’t come back in complaining to me, because I got the car fixed. You go learn how to drive it.’ Elder was certainly a leader. He might not always be right, but he was never wrong. One thing about Jake — he was always the same. When you saw him coming, you knew what you were going to get. He was good enough and forceful enough that when he said he’d fixed something, they had confidence in the car and could go out and get something done.

Elder was the crew chief for  David Pearson  championship winning car for   Holman-Moody  in 1968 and 1969. Elder worked for   Darrell Waltrip when he was a young driver in the mid 1970s. Stories circulate that Elder grabbed Waltrip by his driver’s suit to tell him how to race the car. Edler was hired by  Rod Osterland in 1979 to work with rookie  Dale Earnhardt . Earnhardt won the rookie of the year award that season. After Earnhardt won his first race, Elder said to him “Stick with me, kid, and we’ll win diamonds as big as horse turds” Elder left the team in May 1980 which was Earnhardt’s first championship season. Elder later worked for Yates Racing  until he was fired in 1991 and replaced by  Larry Macreynolds . He served as crew chief for many additional seasons for different teams before he retired.

One day at North Wilksboro Speedway , Elder was disappointed with his perception that other teams were illegally soaking their tires to gain additional speed. So he applied a gallon of rubber softener to his team’s qualifying tires in plain view of the other teams and NASCAR officials to protest what he deemed the other teams were doing secretly then he put them on the car, then when every one raced to tell officials he switched them ….

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.

I hope the rule book in heaven is a foot thick… it will give Jake a real challenge! Race on “Suitcase” we will see you someday at the race tracks in heaven…


the dr.



  1. SLY 1 says:

    One hell-of – a story dr. I truly love the old stuff,,it kinda makes ya sit back and say to your self,,Yeah,, I remember that!!! Thanks Dr.

  2. FLETCH346 says:

    Good stuff dr.
    Kind of reminds me of what you would probably be like as a NASCAR CC……
    RIP Suitcase

  3. Shynloco says:

    I’m hoping people take note of Jake and others like him who made NASCAR what it is today. Jake was a guy I took note of way back when in it’s hayday and guys like Dale Earnhardt Sr were just a new name on the circuit. He was truly one of the great Crew Chief’s of all time. RIP and thanks Jake!

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