November 24, 2008
REMEMBERING CHUCK AMATI, THE
by Joyce Standridge
In 1987, a group with deep ties to the legendary quarter-mile dirt
track in Illinois’ capital city formed a committee to put together a
40th anniversary reunion. We did this because it was a given that
Springfield Speedway would never have a 50th. The track
owner/promoter Joe Shaheen was in his 80s and showed no inclination
to sell or turn over the track to somebody else. Our actions were
prescient, as it turned out to be the final season ever.
More than 3,000 people showed up for some or all of the weekend’s
activities, including one of the best sprint car drivers to ever
race anywhere. Not only was Freeman Spur, Illinois native Chuck
Amati fantastic on the track, he was easily one of the best-liked
drivers off the track, too. Funny, colorful, a winner in every sense
of the word. It’s telling that the vast majority of people who raced
at Springfield—and a hell of a lot of other tracks across the
country—counted Chuck as a friend. He raced hard, but clean, and
then was more than willing to join in the bench racing and adult
He had gotten his nickname “The One-Armed Bandit” from an injury.
Instead of recuperating on the sidelines as common sense would
dictate, he strapped his useless right arm in a uniquely Amati
device and drove one-handed for a while.
Chuck was barrel-chested, especially in later years, and always
looked a bit in danger of falling because his body leaned forward at
least a meter in front of his feet as he hurried along through a
busy life. It might have been the high-heeled boots he wore,
sometimes while driving. His heyday was mostly the age before
fire-resistant booties, so it wasn’t unusual for him to add a couple
of inches to his 5’3’’ stretch. Flamboyant clothes, uniforms and
long hair in the 1970s and 1980s meant he looked like a diminutive
version of the Bee Gees’ lead singer.
It worked for him. When you drive that brilliantly and have won that
many races at so many different tracks, you can dress however you
like. Every guy I knew at Springfield justifiably envied Amati’s
attraction to the ladies, too. He had the 1,000-watt smile that
simply charmed everyone.
At the 40th reunion, we had a “roast” prior to the races, only
instead of just one person, pretty much everybody who’d been a star
at the track was fair game. That included Amati, and this was how he
“There are several things you should know about the One-Armed
First, he has two arms.
Next, he has been known to wear shoes with heels tall enough to make
a Las Vegas showgirl envious.
Also, he has been known to wear enough sequins to make a Las Vegas
show girl envious. (In fact, we think one of his fans was a Las
And finally, he really, really hates to tow.
Not long ago, he told me on the telephone that one of the bad things
about getting older is how tired he gets of towing. ‘Every time I
turn around,’ he said, ‘they’ve got a race at the far ends of the
earth. I swear, I’ve been to Kansas and back so many times, I could
close my eyes and get there.’
Well, Chuck Amati, we’ve got good news for you. A young lady left
these (boots) behind for you. You will note that they have the
required heels and sequins. Just before this girl named Dorothy and
her dog Toto left, she said that if you put them on and click your
heels three times, when you open your eyes, you’ll be in Kansas.
We don’t know how you will get back to Illinois, though. The
yellow-brick road definitely doesn’t go to Freeman Spur.”
Win It or Wear It author, Joyce Standridge, presents
Chuck Amati with his Wizard
of Oz sequined boots at
the Little Springfield
That’s Lavina Roberts in the middle.
Although Chuck didn’t seem to know quite what to make
of the boots at the presentation, many years later as our paths
crossed in the pits at some far-flung track, he walked passed with a
laugh, a wave and assurance that he still had the sequined boots
from the reunion.
In the photo you’ll also note the lady in the middle. Lavina Roberts
was a member of that reunion committee and once upon a time, she was
In the early 1970s, the IMCA Winternationals in Tampa was one of the
few places in American racing that allowed women in the pits but
only a limited number of people per car, as Plant Field was pretty
small. We had far more people with our group than would be allowed,
so Chuck—who didn’t have the full complement of people on his pit
crew—agreed to let Lavina sign in as his “wife.” She didn’t look
anything like his real wife, which the IMCA folks probably knew.
But, you know what—it was typical of Chuck to help out friends.
Because we’d shared about a zillion accumulated memories, Chuck was
a natural for our new book, Win It or Wear It. Indeed, he initially
agreed to participate as one of our sources. But along the way, one
of the nicest, kindest guys to ever sit in a race car endured a
series of personal and medical problems that no one should have to
face. And, with a heavy heart, he asked if he could back out of this
project, with the promise that he would definitely participate in
our next sprint car book.
For a guy famous for keeping his promises, it would upset him to
know that he will not be able to keep this one. And it breaks my
heart that he won’t. On a cold fall morning in November, 2008, Chuck
apparently suffered a heart attack while driving his passenger car.
He hit a telephone pole and was gone before help could arrive. Chuck
never did anything by half measures, so it figures that he wouldn’t
go in his sleep. At the relatively young age of 68, he made the
newspapers and racing websites across the country one more time.
Much will be made of his stellar career, but it can be summed up
that he was at the very first World of Outlaws show in 1978, he was
one of the original gypsies who amassed hundreds of feature wins,
and he was fittingly voted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame
in 2004. But what will be remembered by his legions of fans and
friends will be the personal memories. Chuck Amati was one of those
rare and treasured individuals who needed but a few minutes to
create a sense of forever.
You want a wonderful human being to reach the end as happy as he had
made so many other people. And in spite of other things beyond his
control, what was giving him great joy in recent years was his
family, especially grandson Shane Wade. That can make up for a lot
Rest in peace, old friend. I’ll expect you to be wearing those
sequined boots when we meet up again someday, well on the other side
© 2008 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181