Please Attend Jake "Suitcase" Elder Benefit in Mooresville, N. C.
By Joe MarusakMcClatchy Tribune Wire ServicePublished: March 3, 2009They called him "Suitcase Jake."J.C. Elder was the legendary crew chief for David Pearson, the late Dale Earnhardt and so many other top NASCAR drivers in the '60s, '70s and '80s that he seemed to be always packing his bags for one team or another.He even put the nickname on his business card, which sports an image of a duck walking with a suitcase.Elder helped lead Pearson to two championships in the late '60s and Earnhardt to one in 1980. Fan Web sites call him the greatest crew chief ever.Now Elder, 72, needs our help.Bedridden in a Statesville assisted living center, Elder suffers from dementia and seizures, his sister, Helen Moore, told me last week.He can't afford his medical bills, which is why we're all invited to a March 14 benefit in his honor at Memory Lane Motorsports & Historical Automotive Museum in Mooresville.A motorcycle caravan from Tilley Harley-Davidson in Statesville will lead to the event, where dozens of past and present drivers, crew chiefs and mechanics are expected, including Harry Gant, Don Tilley, Buddy Parrott, Ned Jarrett and Bobby Allison.Fans can meet them all and tour the museum and its 150 vintage vehicles for $10.Previous "Legends Helping Legends" benefits at owner Alex Beam's museum raised money toward medical expenses of racing announcer Bill Connell, who died May 31, and Sam Ard, the 1983-84 NASCAR Busch series champion, who continues to battle health problems.Elder won't be at the March 14 fundraiser, but his sister said she plans to attend.I look forward to meeting Moore and purchasing a bunch of her brother's business cards, which will sell for $1 at the event. All proceeds except food sales will go to her brother's health expenses.The Statesville Shrine Club will sell food, and those proceeds will go toward a Shriners Burn Center.Moore, Elder's legal guardian, told her brother about the benefit.His only response: "Why?"From welding to winningOne of 10 children, Elder was born on his family's farm off U.S. 70 in Iredell County, his sister said.His racing career started after he approached the late racing great Ralph Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt's dad, for a job, Moore told me in a phone interview."What can you do?" Moore said Ralph Earnhardt asked her brother."Weld," he said.With that, Ralph Earnhardt put him to work, Moore said."Jake didn't have an education," Moore said. "What he learned, he learned on his own."Suitcase Jake grew into such a legend that he even was depicted on a card in the Maxx Race Cards Collection in the early 1990s."He's the one guy in the garage area who could put just about any decent driver on the pole," CBS-TV racing commentator Mike Joy is quoted as saying on the back of Suitcase Jake's 1991 Maxx card. "... Every time he packs up his suitcase and moves, he makes a contender out of somebody."Elder sometimes switched teams for better pay, Moore said. Other times, "he would get mad at them because they wouldn't follow what he wanted them to do," she said."He'd figure out things in his head," Moore said. "He never did write anything down."Suitcase Jake was so confident in his abilities that he made clear to even Dale Earnhardt that he, not the driver, was in charge, Moore said."'I know you're the driver, but I'm the boss,'" Moore said her brother told Dale Earnhardt. "'You listen to me, and you'll win races.'"