Auto Thrill Show History - Brief Summary
The elite men and women that made Auto Thrill Show History. Timeline about the history, It's hard to believe, but there was a time when auto thrill shows drew larger crowds than NASCAR races. Spectators packed rickety wooden grandstands to watch daring young men in spiffy white uniforms do the 'slide for life' or the 'T-bone crash,' to drive cars on two wheels or to jump cars or motorcycles from ramp to ramp. In the late 1950s as many as 29 stunts show - including Jack Kochman's Hell Drivers, Joie Chitwood's Tournament of Thrills, and Jimmy Lynch's Death Dodgers - toured the country.
Hell Drivers - The frequently used term to describe, and the very popular title of, numerous automobile thrill-based productions performing at fairs and racetracks by various squads of stunt drivers since the 1930s. Earl 'Lucky' Teter was. the first to coin the phrase Hell Drivers, when began touring his show in 1934.
Hell Drivers provided massive audiences with an always exciting show filled with precision driving and deliberate crashes. The 5,600 seat Auto Thrill Stadium had a banked figure-8 track, the first such track to be created exclusively for stunt driving.
Thirty 'Hell Drivers' risked life and limb and vehicles, crashed cars and performed other stunts in a daring high-speed show. On the program were; four-car bumper tag, wing ski jumps (drivers careened off a low ramp on two wheels at 50 MPH), a crash rollover contest, and the dive bomber crash (off the ramp with an old car onto the top of a parked car). For the show's climax, a driver piloted a truck on a dangerous ramp-to-ramp flight, hurtling more than 70 feet through the air. Admission; box seats $2.00; center seats $1.50; general admission $1.00. Performances were four shows daily; six of weekends and holidays.
Featured stunts included driving cars on two wheels, crashing through flaming barricades, and jumping an automobile ramp to ramp through mid-air. For many years, Hell Drivers were used to demonstrating the dependability of a manufacturers automotive product.
Major Hell Driver automotive sponsors have included Chevrolet, Dodge, Chrysler, Ford, AMC Nash, and Toyota. Later auto thrill shows coining the phrase 'Hell Drivers' was launched by such famous drivers and race promoters as Jack Kochman, John Francis 'Irish' Horan, Danny Fleenor, and. General Manager of Kochman's troupe was Bob Conto. Conto, a native of Malone, New York in the state's North Country was a former radio-television announcer whose staccato delivery kept pace with the 50-mile per hour events. 2012 TONNY PETERSEN HELL DRIVERS 2011 2010 2000 CHARLIE BELKNAP HOLLYWOOD STUNT SHOW. Paul Riddell's Imperial Stunt Drivers In front of the grandstand near you. Featuring: Tonny Petersen
Out of a dust cloud.with speed increasing at every turn of the wheels. the Imperial Stunt Drivers have emerged from the pages of thrill show lore to thrill fans once again with the sights and sounds of the auto daredevils. Representing an international array of thrill show driving talent, the Imperial Stunt Drivers are led into action by Paul Riddell of Quebec, Canada. A legendary stunt driver and thrill show personality, Riddell started his career at a young age with the famous Congress Of Canadian Hell Drivers. With 53 years of thrill show experience to his credit, the legendary Paul Riddell has thrilled fans with performances around the globe with such thrill producers as Joie Chitwood and Stoney Roberts. Joining the Imperial Stunt Drivers roster is Tonny Petersen of Copenhagen, Denmark.
With a legacy spanning more than four decades, Petersen has become a true master of the stunt driving trade. Representing the United States in the International collection of stunt stars is Toby Thibodeau. Toby, the nation's leading female stunt driver brings 23 years of experience to performances. Aside from the hard-charging action, spectators are able to share in laughter at the crazy comedy car of Koko the clown. 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993 1992 In 1991 Walter and Bill Williams were honoured with the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
"Industry Achievement Citation" recognizing their work entertaining audiences across Canada. 1990 NASHVILLE - Jack Kochman, the last great thrill show impresario, died Tuesday at his home in Yadkinville, N.C. In 1989, Kochman retired from the thrill show scene. At the time, the show was the longest-running thrill show production in history. He passed the torch to his most respected employees, Charlie Belknap and Tonny Petersen. They continued to produce the show until retiring from the business at the end of the 2004 season. Kochman put on automobile thrill shows for more than four decades before his retirement in 1989.
1980 1987 HOLLYWOOD STUNT WORLD JACK KOCHMAN, JOHN ANDERSON, WILLIAM KINGSLEY, PAT JACKSON, WALTER WILLIAMS, PETE GROCE, JIM'CRASH'MOREAU, THE CYCLE ARTIST DON BRENEMAN AND JOHN ANDERSON JR. MORE PERFORMERS JIM EDITING, LOUIS TOOMS JIM WALSH AND THE CLOWN JACK'COOKIE'COOK AND THE ANNOUNCERS CHARLES BELKNAP BOBBY CHANCE AND PHIL SLAGGERT. NEAL LOTT returns to the world of daring-do at Delaware Speedway, August 1983. Jerry Lackey is a veteran of JACK KOCHMAN HELL DRIVERS precision team. 1977 marks Jerry fourteenth year in the profession.
September 1976. KEN THE MAD CANADIAN CARTER with is mile jump 1977. Also in 1977 HURRICANE HELL DRIVERS.
1970 WALT KING KOVAZ. Businessman LUCKY LOTT shows his past on his Stratford Hotel bar. Johnny Thunder started performing at the age of 15 with his dad's thrill show. The stunts that he performs, wheelie shows, fire tunnel, body burns, car crashes, dynamite chair, ramp to ramp motorcycle jumps, or crashing through blazing walls of fire. I currently live in Decatur Indiana and have travelled through the US Canada and Puerto Rico. 1969 PAUL RIDDELL HELL DRIVERS 'WILD BILL' REED sends a Dodge convertible bustling over 70 feet through space in a spectacular ramp-to-ramp jump at the Florida State Fair in Tampa.
HE WAS KILLED IN A REVERSE SPIN STUNT August 22, 1962, in Purchase District Fair; Mayfield, KY. 1965 J.K.PRODUCTIONS presents the ``KING`` KOVAZ AUTO DAREDEVILS. A fourth unit was produced for 1964 and 1965 to perform shows at the New York World Fair. That unit did 1,200 performances and was featured on NBC's 'Today' show. Over the next five years, Kochman cut back to one unit, which toured the world, selling out venues including the Houston Astrodome. RAY JACKSON JASPER THE CLOWN. 1965 Walter & Bill Williams had gained enough experience and expertise in the business of auto thrills, to create their own show, the 'Trans-Canada Hell Drivers'.
THE STOBE CAMERA CATCHES JAKE PLUMSTEAD IN A RAMP TO RAMP LEAP IN A 1959 DODGE SEDAN. Was there twin Jasper the clown??? 'King Kovaz' better known as 'Jasper the Jerk' considered the Number 1 thrill show clown. His unpredictable antics tend to relieve the tension between each thrill stunt offered by the International Auto Daredevils. Kochman wasn't blind to the marketing capabilities of the automobile thrill show business, and he started a long-standing sponsor relationship with tire companies and a major automobile manufacturer.
With the popularity of the auto thrill show growing, Kochman started production of a second thrill show team in 1957 and a third in 1960. Promoted as the "One-Legged American Champion Movie Stunt Daredevil," Ken Butler and his troupe of crash drivers thrilled audiences across the East Coast. Butler retired from the auto thrill show circuit during World War II, only to come out of retirement on a bet with a friend in the mid- 1950s when he was nearing 50 years of age. WALTER 'KING' KOVAZ the internationally famous Thrill Show clown. BOB CONTO general agent. NEAL LOTT talks to cameraman during the making of a promotional movie for the Nash motor company in Peoria, Illinois 1951. NEAL LOTT beginning a high-ski during a show at Pekin, Illinois 1951 Beam continued to operate at state and county fairs into the late 1950s, but it was Teter who added the precision driving of new automobiles over elevated ramps.
The cars did reverse spins, and stuntmen were added to the show to act as daredevil clowns. 1950 B.WARD BEAM'S WOLD CHAMPION DAREDEVILS Mid-Century YORK Inter-State FAIR'S Terrific Windup.
1950 B.WARD BEAM'S WORLD CHAMPION DAREDEVILS AUTO LEAP COMPLETELY OVER TRANSCONTINENTAL BUS. NEAL LOTT a ramp-to-ramp jump at Sudbury in 1949. 1947-1948 JIMMIE LYNCH WON FAME AS AN AUTOMOBILE STUNT DRIVER DOING THE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. HE ALSO FINDS TIME TO SUPERVISE OPERATIONS ON HIS 2000 ACRE RANCH NEAR TEXARKANA TEXAS. PERCY THE CLOWN WHO MERRIMENT TO THE EXHIBITIONS.
BOB MAYNARD AND AL GROSS ORIGINAL DEATH DODGERS. DEAN ROBINSON 1946 Lucky Lott hell driver, NEAL LOTT in a flaming barrel crash, Peterborough, Ontario Canada. 1944-1945-1946 ALL AMERICAN THRILL SHOW DRIVER HILLMAN c.
TROUPE ASSEMBLED BY SWENSON. Also 1945 LOTT'S barrel crash at Louisville's Churchill Downs. The war in Europe curtailed auto events at Alcyone Speedway in 1942, when the O.D.T banned the use of rubber tires and gasoline in Auto Thrill Shows.
Four years later, in 1946, the B. Ward Beam Thrill Show turned Alcyone into action.
'Lucky' Teter, who packed grandstands and broke attendance records with his Thrill Shows, He was killed in a fatal crash at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis in 1942, the late stunt driver's show equipment was purchased by Kochman, who debuted his World Champion Hell Drivers that summer. Teter's show was part of a benefit for the Army-Navy Medical Relief Fund. Also in 1942, TOMMY MARCUS in a flaming barrel stunt, Chicago's Soldier Field. The war in Europe curtailed auto events at Alcyon Speedway in 1942, when the O.D.T.
Banned the use of rubber tires and gasoline in Auto Thrill Shows. Four years later, in 1946, the B. Ward Beam Thrill Show returned Alcyon into action.
WARD BEAM'S 'For Good Luck, carry a 32mm round brass advertising coin with The lord's Prayer' and has Our Father on it and a car flying over a bus and states 'B. Ward Beam's World's Champions Daredevils. One of Ward Beam`s stunt the ``leap of death's the motorcycle goes through a ring of fire. BETTER CROOKS crashes to applause during a show in Wisconsin during the mid-'40s. During the 1940s, Auto Thrill Shows would be part of holiday races. They soon were able to attract enough attendance to hold mid-week shows, on their own. 1939, NEAL LOTT does a slide for life with JIMMIE LYNCH'S show. In 1939 they were brought east for the first time to appear as a special feature of the New York World Fair, where for two years they entertained more than eleven million people.
Also JIMMIE LYNCH in a 1938 Dodge. 1935-36-37 The Death Dodgers were organized in 1935 by Jimmie Lynch. The first idea proposed testing automobiles and accessories for manufacturers, but public interest in these exhibitions was great they soon began appearing at public events, fairs and celebrations.
During these early years, the Death dodgers confined their tours to the middle and far west. With the expansion of harness and auto racing, becoming more popular. Auto races were usually held on holidays during the Summer and harness races during the Grange Fair, which was held annually. Harness racing became more prevalent from the 1920s, until 1935. A former gas station attendant, Teter had put together his Hell Drivers in the early 1930s. ``BARNEY`` OLDFIELD is the first stuntman to drive a car at 60 miles on an oval track. 1933 'B. Ward Beam's World's Champions Daredevils is credited as the originator of such a form of entertainment, debuting his Congress of Daredevils in Toledo, Ohio, in 1923.
In 1928, Beam's show amazed spectators at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, the first time an auto stunt show played a fair. Beam's Daredevils did shows in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana from the 1920s to the 1940s. Performing stunts like the Transcontinental Bus Jump, with Rollovers, T-Bones, Dive Bombers, Flying Head-ons, Side Winders, Head-ons, Solid Wall Crashes (both Brick & Ice). Lucky Lott, 1921 WARD BEAM STARTS PROMOTING AUTO RACE EVENTS 1914: Auto and motorcycle match races, in the distances of one and five miles in lengths, were held. As the automobile speeds progressed, the 1/3 mile tracks narrow turns became more dangerous and a nuisance. In 1913, track-owners, George and his brother Dr Henry Carr, enlarge the track, to 1/2 mile, five -turn speedway.
The unique five-turn shape was caused by the inability to expand at either end, because of an amusement park to the East and orchards to the West. The extra distance was added to the backstretch, creating the fifth turn. Loren (Bumps) Willert joined Joie Chitwood's auto thrill show as a mechanic the day after he graduated from high school, in 1953. The next night, Willert did the slide for life, where the stunt man lowers himself off the back of a speeding car and slides on his posterior through a circle of flaming gasoline. 'I'd only seen it once, the night before when the original guy got hurt,' says Willert. 'Two days later I did the firewall stunt, where you drive a car through a burning wall, and two days after that I barrel-rolled my first car.
I guess I was either real gullible or a quick learner.' Canton, like Willert, was recruited to do the slide for life after only one day on the job.
'You had the leather pad you slid on, gloves, coveralls, and a helmet,' he recalls. 'You slid through the fire so fast you barely felt it. The trick was to keep your hands and legs up and just slide on your fanny till you stopped. Later on, it was a tradition that for the last show of the year, before we laid off for the winter, that the crew would hide the leather pad. They'd be generous and give you an extra pair of coveralls, and you'd do the slide that way, without the leather pad. That was the one time you'd want to roll instead of slide.
As soon as you cleared the fire, you'd tuck your arms in tight and start rolling like a log. It's pretty amazing how far you can roll like that, and not really get much more than a few bruises. The coveralls were pretty much worn out, though.' Canton specialized in motorcycle stunts. His talent for jumping 30 or 40 feet in the air pales in comparison to today's flamboyant motocross jumping exhibitions - until you compare the equipment. 'I usually jumped a 300-pound BSA 350 Scrambler with maybe three or four inches of suspension travel, and both the take-off and landing ramps were two feet wide,' he says.
'The other guys used to tease me that I was showing off twisting the handlebars and my body in the air, but I wasn't. I was manhandling the bike so I'd hit that narrow little landing ramp.' Canton's most memorable motorcycle crash came when he rode an imported Benelli motorcycle, marketed briefly in the United States by Montgomery Ward department stores.
When he left the take-off ramp, the front forks separated and the front wheel fell off. He pole-vaulted over the handlebars when he landed. 'I did a lot of serious rolling until things finally stopped moving,' says Canton. 'I was lying there face down, taking a mental inventory of body parts, thinking, Hey, I got away with it.and Bam!
That damned Monkey Ward motorcycle landed on my back. No permanent damage, but I was sure sore for a couple days.' While Canton and Willert downplay their injuries, they acknowledge that their jobs humoured few mistakes. Freak accidents were their greatest concern. 'The first year I was with the show, Snooks Wentzel died doing a simple barrel roll,' says Willert.
'There was a fire in the engine compartment, just a brief flash fire that put itself out, but when the car rolled, the hood buckled up at the rear and the fire flashed into the driver's compartment. Snooks must have taken a breath at the wrong time, and sucked fire down into his lungs. He was sitting there, dead, when we got to the car. There wasn't a burn on him. Just one of those freak things that kept you awake at night sometimes.' The 'cellar' or 'basement' was the area below an imaginary line that ran from the top of the dashboard across the top of the seats to the rear deck. No matter how many times a car rolled, or how violently, the roof couldn't crush lower than that imaginary line.
'For the T-bone, we'd take off the back of the passenger side of the seat, and wear a seat belt about half tight,' says Willert. 'You'd kind of sit toward the middle, steer with your left hand until you left the ramp, then throw yourself face-first down onto the seat and wrap your arms around the passenger side, with your feet wedged up under the dashboard so they didn't flop loose. Then you just hugged that seat like it was a pretty girl until everything stopped moving.' Both Canton and Willert are proud of their ability to wreck cars, but take special pride in the cars they didn't wreck. Both men were aces at driving cars on two wheels. Spectators often swore the cars bad hidden 'training wheels.' 'One time in Oklahoma, an oilman came down after the show and told us he had $1,000 that said the cars were rigged,' recalls Canton.
'Our bosses had left for the night, so we looked at each other, pooled our money to take the bet, and set up the ramp. Once we got the car up on two wheels, we drove real slow, so the guy could run alongside the car with a flashlight, looking for extra wheels or trick stuff. It was easy money because the cars weren't rigged. The sponsors wouldn't allow us to do any suspension or drivetrain or engine modifications to the two-wheel and precision-driving cars,' Canton says. 'They wanted the thrill show to be a demonstration of how tough those Chevys or Fords or Dodges were. We finally convinced them to let us lock the rear end on the two-wheel cars, and that's how we were able to drive them all the way around the tracks.
But the announcer always had to tell the crowd the rear end was locked. The companies would even send spies out to check the cars to make sure we hadn't modified them - they were really strict about it.'
Both men concede that while their early salaries were minimum wage, they got some big paydays in the end, including offers to stunt-drive in movies. Willert, for example, was cajoled into making the famed 360 aerial rolls in the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. 'I had a reputation as a pretty good car jumper, and the stunt coordinator for that movie was having trouble getting the stunt to work,' says Willert.
'The whole thing was designed by computer, and when they put a human-sized weight in the driver's seat and sent it off the ramp, it landed perfectly. But every time they put a driver in the car, they crashed big time.'
Willert, who was on tour in Europe at the time, studied photographs and films of the failed attempts and eventually determined that the problem was psychological. The corkscrew ramps were placed out of line to compensate for the sideways travel of the car as it spiralled through the air, and drivers couldn't deal with the landing ramp being out of line with the take-off ramp. 'They'd always try to help the car get there by cheating to one side as they went up the launch ramp,' says Willert. 'That really messed things up, because you had to be at exactly 47 miles an hour and exactly on a line they had painted on the launch ramp.
They had some nasty crashes. Eventually, they talked me into doing the stunt for the actual filming. I admit, it was hard to keep it on the line painted on the launch ramp, when you could see the landing ramp sitting way, way off to the side.
But I did it, and the first time I did it was the take you see in the movie.' If you were to meet these men on the street today, you'd think they have retired factory or office workers who'd spent their lives punching time clocks. But in reality, they spent their careers entertaining audiences with precision driving and nerves of steel, doing things with cars that sane men weren't supposed to do. Their hair may now be thinner or greyer and their waists thicker than in the faded photos from the glory days. But in their hearts, they're still the dashing young men in white uniforms, crawling from wrecked cars to give a cocky smile and a jaunty wave to a packed grandstand.
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