Win It or Wear It
– All-time Great
Sprint Car Tales,

by Joyce Standridge






































Racing Commentary

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Courtesy Standridge Collection

November 24, 2008


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 beverages afterwards.
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 was introduced:

“There are several things you should know about the One-Armed Bandit:

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 Vegas showgirl.)

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 Reunion. 
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 Chuck’s “wife.”

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 of disappointment.

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 of Kansas.

© 2008 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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11/11/08 - That Rick Ferkel

10/24/08 - Beyond Bionic - Bentley Warren

10/6/08 - Fifty Second Classic, Thirty-First DIamond

9/20/08 - Joey's Dad

9/1/08 - One Night at The Park

8/20/08 - Transitional Technology

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7/19/08 - Star(ter) of the Show

7/7/08 - McUnderdog

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried

6/5/08 - John Richards - Boomer Role Model

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues

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3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See

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12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

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