J.C. Elder was born in Statesville, North Carolina on November 22, 1936 to Dewey Lee and Mable Mae Sprinkle Elder. Although Jake only had a third grade education and could not read or write, he would go on to become one of the most successful crew chiefs in NASCAR's history.
Elder began his forty year NASCAR career as a fabricator with Petty Enterprises in 1959. He would eventually go on to became the lead mechanic, and then a crew chief, working with over 30 drivers during his career, including Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Benny Parsons, Fred Lorenzen, Mario Andretti, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Davey Allison, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace and others.
Frequently hopping from team to team, he became known as "Suitcase Jake". When he would get mad he would pickup his tools, leave and go work elsewhere.
Jake would work on a 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 the crew chief for David Pearson's 1968 and 1969 championships and helped Dale Earnhardt become NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year in 1979 and get his first Cup victory. Also he was Mario Andretti's crew chief when Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500 and was Darrell Waltrip's crew chief for his first and last victories.
After Elder suffered a stroke, retired NASCAR legends decided to form the "Suitcase Jake Commemorative Fund" for Elder. These retired drivers raced in an event on July 18, 2008 at Music City Motorplex, in Nashville, Tennessee, to benefit Jake.
Upon his death NASCAR released a statement "He was one the first crew chiefs in NASCAR to achieve celebrity status with our fans. He was a pioneer in that regard, and his celebrity was well deserved. He was truly one of the greatest crew chiefs of all time, winning two championships with David Pearson. Our sport has lost one of its legends."
"He was one of the true pioneers and classic personalities of our sport," said Winston Kelley, the executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Elder had been in failing health ever since suffering a stroke in 2006 and a bout with pneumonia in 2008. On February 24, 2010, J.C. Elder passed away from natural causes at the age of 73.
Jake will always be remembered and he will be greatly missed.