From Stopwatch To Stop The Presses
Talking With Judy Stropus
© Andrew S. Hartwell
in the 1960s in America, sports car racing enjoyed a time of plenty
with names like Mark Donohue, Peter Revson, Jim Hall, George Follmer,
Jerry Titus, Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, and Dan
Gurney appearing in the magazines and race programs of the day.
It was a golden age of racing – a time when the computer and
diagnostic tools simply didn’t exist.
It was a time
when a stopwatch told you who was fastest and who was not fast enough.
And it took a skilled hand – someone with the brainpower of
a computer – to keep track of all the cars in a race using
only a pad, pencil, stopwatch and an attentive eye. And two of the
sharpest eyes to ever keep the timing and scoring for professional
race teams belonged to one Judy Stropus.
several years, Judy was the scoring and timing professional on the
Penske Racing team of professionals who prepared Trans Am and Can
Am cars for Mark Donohue and others to drive. She was so good at
her craft that other teams would often seek her services, and she
soon came to learn she had something to offer - and a way into the
world of professional sportscar racing was opened to her. She has
been on the inside ever since.
Judy Stropus is the principal
in JVS Enterprises, her public relations company, based in Connecticut.
I talked with her at Lime Rock Park and asked her to recount her
beginnings with Penske and her subsequent years as an insider to
the game of racing.
“I started out
timing and scoring with the Queens Sports Car Club. The gal who
was there (Lee Sorrentino) taught me how to do it and I thought,
‘Wow. Is that all there is to it?’ I didn’t know
any better; I just thought anybody could do it. It was something
that I discovered I could do and I could do it well.
“It just happened
that the factories were starting to come into racing and someone
recommended me. I was first hired in Marlboro, Maryland by the Lincoln-Mercury
Cougar team in Trans Am. They wanted someone to do the timing and
scoring. Duke Manor, who was writing for Autoweek at the time, had
recommended me to the FORD people.
“I have a picture
in my book of me sitting on a toolbox with the ramps as my umbrella,
for a five-hour Trans Am race at Marlboro. I worked with Peter Revson
and Ed Leslie and Lee Roy Yarborough on Bud Moore’s team.
They hired me just for that weekend because I was already at the
track. I knew I did it perfectly but I thought it was time to retire
from racing. So in 1967 I retired!
“But then Bud Moore
called me and asked if I would go with the team to Colorado Springs.
They said they would pay me and pay all my expenses too! So I said
WOW! And went and bought myself a whole new wardrobe! That lasted
for a season and then they hired a friend so I retired again –
at least in my head.
“Then I got a call
from Jim Jeffords from the Javelin Team. He said they kept hearing
my name and they simply had to hire me. So I said OK, I’m
available. I thought it would be for just a few races but they said
they wanted me for the whole season.
“In the middle
of the year, Roger Penske walks up to me and says “Why are
you not working for me?” That was how it all started and I
was in heaven. Mark (Donohue) became one of my best friends. I was
young enough to say, “Oh my GOD! Look where I am!” It
together for six or seven years and it was a wonderful time.”
Donohue was lost to us
in a Formula 1 accident, having come out of retirement to do what
he did best – drive a racecar. Stropus remembers her good
friend. “I had already left Penske when Mark died. I had advised
him not to un-retire but he couldn’t do anything else. After
he retired, he wanted to start a business but soon realized he didn’t
have the background for that. He tried his hand at being a team
manager but wasn’t very good at that. He had an engineering
degree and he was unique in that he could apply that knowledge and
still be a great racecar driver. Al Holbert is the other exception
that comes to mind, because he followed in Mark’s footsteps
and actually emulated him in many ways that people don’t realize.
“To this day, Mark
is the only engineer-driver who was successful, that I can think
of. So he decided to go back to what he could do well, drive.”
After her years at Penske,
Judy Stropus found herself much in demand by race teams. So much
so that she had to find a way to divide herself up into several
pieces while remaining whole. She tells us how she accomplished
that feat of physics-defying design.
of a sudden everybody wanted my services. Roger had to cut back
so I left his team and went to work with Peter Gregg (right) and
his team. The economic conditions were not great and teams looked
for ways to save money. After a while, others wanted me to work
for them too so I came up with a system that would not cost them
that much and would allow me to work for many teams at once. And
it worked! I made pretty good money.
“The business and
the sport were changing, the economy had gone down, and computerized
systems were coming in. That wasn’t where my talent was. My
PR business was doing well and I had Chevrolet as my primary account.
I was always timing and doing PR together, always.
“About 13 years
ago I sent a letter to all my timing and scoring clients that the
Daytona 24 hour race was coming up and I needed to know by such
and such a date if they required my services. As I didn’t
hear from but a few teams I decided to hang up my stopwatch and
retire from timing and scoring. Sure enough, two weeks later they
all started calling saying they needed me but I had to tell them
it was too late, I had officially retired!
“The PR business
was growing and I was able to make that work even better than I
thought I could. Some of my clients have included GM, Buz McCall’s
team, Bob Akin Motor Racing, Duracell, Mattel Toys, Royal Oak Charcoal
and BMW. Early on I had a lot of clients but later on it became
GM and BMW of North America, LLC.
was involved with the Winston Cup, NHRA and Craftsman Truck series
for GM. I didn’t want to work with the Corvette team because
I had my relationship with BMW in sportscar racing and I didn’t
want to have a conflict of interest. But GM has cut back considerably
and now I work with BMW and Schumacher Racing in the NHRA, and the
Formula 1 stuff for BMW in the United States. Right now I am very
“It is seven days
a week. I go to every race. And I like traveling. I can even handle
all the security issues. They are getting better at that.”
This busy veteran has
stroked many keys in her time, bringing the right words to life
to best illuminate her client’s achievements. This led me
to ask what gave her a personal sense of satisfaction and contentment.
“When there are
articles about my team appearing in print or on the Internet –
articles that I generated. And that is not for the clients - that
is for me. The way I see it I’m not really doing it for them.
Yes, it is important that it be done for them, but I do it more
for me, for my personal satisfaction that I am doing a good job.
I can only do my best and the client is going to benefit one way
or another from it.”
And the fans and editors
everywhere also benefit from the efforts of Judy Stropus. She continues
as a vital and energetic member of the world of auto racing, even
after so many racing miles and so many words so well written.