You know folks, I lost a really dear friend this week -- Jake Elder. He was one of the absolutely greatest crew chiefs to ever work in NASCAR. To me, he was also one of the most unsung heros of our sport. During his career, I don't think he got the recognition like a Dale Inman or a Leonard Wood did.
It's easy for me to say that Jake Elder was as smart as or smarter than anyone I ever worked with when it came to a race car. It wasn't like he was book-smart or had an engineering degree. He just had common sense and more importantly, he had a sense about a race car. He literally could look at a car going around the track and tell you what was wrong with it.
As a young driver getting his start back in 1972, if I hadn't had Jake Elder as my crew chief, well, I wouldn't have made it. Jake always gave me cars that drove and handled well. Jake made it so I could go to these tracks I had never been to before and focus on my driving and not worry about the car. Jake always had the car set up properly and it would handle well.
I have always said that myself, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Terry Labonte, Benny Parsons, Davey Allison and so many other drivers benefited from the experience and knowledge of Jake Elder. He just always gave you a solid race car and you never had to worry about something falling off of it. In his day, Jake built race cars that were second to none in this sport.
The thing that always amazed me was how Jake did all this without any notes. He didn't keep a notebook. He didn't have every setup for every track we went to written down. Folks, it literally was all in his head.
The other amazing ability Jake had was he could remember setups from races years past. In addition to that, he could tell you about how you qualified, how you raced and the mistakes you made in that race. It was amazing. You literally could go ask him how we did at Darlington in 1975 and he could recount everything. He was such a unique individual.
Jake's biggest problem was he was a perfectionist. It made it hard for him to work with other people. He was so meticulous about his cars that he didn't trust anyone else to work on therm. After everyone else was done working on the car, he would go back and put the Jake Elder finishing touches on it. Every bolt had to be Jake-tight. Every part and piece on that race car had to be checked off by Jake.
That's just how Jake was and that's how he got the name, Suitcase Jake. He was a very demanding person. Let's be honest, he was cantankerous and hard to get along with a lot of the time. Before you knew it, you would have your guys coming to you saying "You gotta do something about this or we are walking."
Whenever Jake would get a sense of things reaching that point, he would walk in the shop, pack up his things and roll his toolbox out the door. Then the next day you would hear that he went to work for another team. The thing was, he was so good at what he did and he had all this knowledge, well it wasn't hard at all for Jake to find another job. So he would simply move from one place to the next and that's how he got the nickname Suitcase Jake.
I was one of the first guys he had ever worked with. I actually rented Jake from Dick Hutcherson, to go with me for my first Cup race in Talladega in 1972. Quite simply, I know I wouldn't have won as many races as I did nor know as much as I do about a race car if it weren't for Jake Elder.
Here's something really unique that Jake and I always shared. Together, we won my first NASCAR Cup race in 1975 at Nashville. Fast-forward 17 years and we were together when I won my very last NASCAR Cup race in Darlington for the Southern 500 in 1992. Yup, Jake was crew chief for both.
Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond and myself went to see Jake last year in the rest home. It was so sad and it made my heart hurt. Jake was battling Alzheimer's, which is a disgusting disease. Here was this man who as I mentioned, had all this knowledge of racing and all those memories, being robbed of all that. I stood there and cried seeing him in that condition.
I am just here to tell you that I loved Jake Elder. I have told you many times how in the early days, I would pay him on Friday but then borrow money back from him on Monday to pay bills that the race purse didn't cover. I believed in Jake Elder. More importantly, Jake Elder believed in Darrell Waltrip. We sure did accomplish a lot together.
They don't make folks like Jake Elder anymore. To me, he is one of the truly iconic crew chiefs in the history of NASCAR. I will never forget what Jake did for my career. He meant a lot to this sport and he will be missed. I believe Jake Elder will some day be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
God bless you Jake -- you will be truly missed.