From Stopwatch To Stop The Presses
Talking With Judy Stropus
© Andrew S. Hartwell

dailysportscar.comBack 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.

dailysportscar.comFor 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 was awesome.

“We worked together for six or seven years and it was a wonderful time.”

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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.

dailysportscar.com“All 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.

dailysportscar.com“I 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 busy!

“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.

 

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