Interview with “TV” Tommy Ivo cont...
February 12, 2014
by Paige Teel
Paige: If you could go back in time is there anything that you would change in your racing or acting career?
Mr. Ivo: I suppose anybody would say sure. You have your good times and bad times, but with no valleys there are no peaks. I had a really good run at it and a good time. I was 9 or 10 years old and I got to ride horses with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and chase guys around on horses and shooting guns. They were paying me for it! How much better does it get? Now, in drag racing, whenever anything in life goes on, there is always a half-full glass if you look for it. I took a car out to Pomona one year and rolled it in the lights and ran 240 mph upside down and backwards and I backed into the guardrails. It came apart like a cheap, two-dollar watch. However, I didn’t get a scratch out of the deal. The only thing that made me mad was that it scared me so that I closed my eyes and missed the whole show. The half-glass on that one was a brand-new car and only the fourth time out at Winternationals and it killed it. Boy, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was worth the price of admission. Boy, that was my ticket ride! I have kept the kid in me my whole life. I just ate the whole thing up with a spoon!
Paige: What advice do you have for Jr. Dragster or other young racers?
Mr. Ivo: Don’t give up. You will have your ups and downs, but stick with it. I started out with just a little Model T Roadster. It is at the NHRA museum in Gainesville now. We built it to go to Bob’s Drive In on Saturday nights. I got ahold of these race cars and I was so small - only 115 lbs. and 5’10” tall - and they used to tease me that I had to run around in the shower to get wet! But, every once in a while these cars would bite me and I was tenacious and I didn’t give up. If you keep going, drag racing it is about one of the best things you can do with your life. These cars are like Robo Cop outfits to strap on. It made a Varsity man out of me! If you run into a bump in the road, stick with it - that glass is always half-full. When I was 45 years old, I broke 3 vertebrae in my back. Although I couldn’t race, I was finally able to travel all over the world!
Paige: If they had Jr. Dragsters back then, would you have wanted to drive one?
Mr. Ivo: Oh, absolutely! I had my bicycle apart more than it was together, always fiddling with it and repainting it and what have you. I have no doubt that I would have because when I was 16 years old, I went to the drag races with my 1952 Buick. We ran a stock car with a straight-8 and not much horsepower in it. It ran 66.66 mph. This was right out at the drag strip and we didn’t have much luck with it. We were into building custom cars back then so I put my money in the body work. But then, I bought a 1955 Century that had a Buick motor and a V8 in it (first out) and it ran like a streak. I went to Pomona, which was just about my home track and won two trophies with it. One was for breaking the track record and one was for winning my class. I was off and running after that!
Paige: Do you still stay in touch with your past racing and acting buddies?
Mr. Ivo: Yes, I still do with my racing ones, not so much with my acting friends. They have reunions, but it was so far back that the kids are the only ones left. When they started the Drag Racing reunion in Bakersfield, it was really good for me. We used to leave in March and come back in November and run about 100 races and travel about 100,000 miles a year. I knew every nook and bump in the roads all over the U.S. When they have the reunion it is a great chance to see everybody. Thank goodness for email. I am a bit of a practical joker. I think it is because I did one too many situational comedies, because I see the funny in everything!
Paige: Speaking of that, are there any jokes that you regret?
Mr. Ivo: Nope, but a couple of other people regret them. One time when we were out on tour the last time, Don Prudhomme went with me. One night I took his shampoo, poured it out and put 10-weight motor oil in it and when he squirted it on his hair it turned into axle grease!
Paige: Is there a racer that reminds you of yourself?
Mr. Ivo: Yes, present day it is Clay Millican. He has got a big broad smile like I do. In the foreword of my book that Don Prudhomme wrote, he said, “I still see him at the reunions and the kid in him still comes out with that Howdy Doody smile!” Clay Millican and I both have Howdy Doody smiles. He is a good guy and he has a lot of kid in him too! He kind of runs like I did. He runs a lot of the IHRA races. The national event wins have eluded him, just like me. The problem with me was that we were making our money off of match racing. So, national events like Indy I would go in there early on Thursday and then qualify. I would leave for three others on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then come back on Monday to Indy for the race. That was pretty good being able to qualify then leave and still be in the field. Although the others were practicing all along on the track, so it wasn’t the best way to try to win. I knew that I had to keep the doors open and make our money match racing.
Paige: After reading your Biography, “TV” Tommy Ivo Drag Racing’s Master Showman by Tom Cotter and the foreword by Don Prudhomme, I realized that you designed many of your own car trailers. What do you think of the big rigs today?
Mr. Ivo: Well, it kind of started it all off in a way. I had a truck that had glass sides in it that hauled two dragsters and a Corvette that we used as a push car on top. When we went to Indy that first year everyone had chaparral trailers and big GMC or Chevy Dually trucks and my truck stood out like a monalet (bright red ruby) in the pits. You could see it from one end to the other. Of course, I put my name on top, because when you have a billboard why not use it? I have often thought that if I had one of those 18 wheelers today I would put the race car way up on the top in the back and make a glass canopy out of it and let people see the car. We had a generator on board and sometimes we towed with the lights on while on Pennsy’s Pike and I would hear the truckers talking on the CB radio, “You see that Tommy Ivo car going north at mile marker 100?” We used to take the trailers around and people would see the name. We would ask them if they wanted to see the cars inside. We would wear out the hinges showing so many people the cars. When we were over in England racing and I saw that they had big signs and big windows on their buses and here we had little windows on our Greyhound buses. I saw those big windows and thought man that is the ticket! They could look until their heart was content. Then the idea caught on. Remember it was a long time ago since I raced. You know all the things I did with building cars with two engines and glass sided trailers and all that. You know, it has been over 30 years since I sat in a race car and people still remember me. Seems as though I stood the test of time… it was probably all the antics that I did!
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