One of the true icons of our sport is Tommy Ivo. This month, Nostalgia Drag World is proud to feature an interview with “TV” Tom by our newest – and undoubtedly our youngest – contributor, Paige Teel. A competitor in the Jr. Dragster ranks, we not only wish her well in the 2014 racing season, but certainly feel she has the writing “chops” to make her mark in the field of journalism as well. Here’s what Paige tells us about herself……
“My name is Paige Teel and I am an 11-year-old Jr. Dragster racer from Quincy, Illinois. Coming from a family of drag racers, I have grown up at the race track. As I enter my fourth year of juniors, I have learned to combine two of my favorite hobbies, writing and drag racing. I hope to educate others about the history and the sport of drag racing through my writing.”
Interview with “TV” Tommy Ivo
February 12, 2014
by Paige Teel
What would you think if you were cruising down the highway and suddenly a brand new Cadillac speeds past you pulling an enclosed, glass-sided car trailer? It stands out like a diamond in the rough. The glass sides reflect the sunlight and you can’t help but stare at what is inside. The beautiful, cherry red front engine dragster seems to be beckoning race fans to follow because you know they are speeding to their next race! Definitely not the kind of thing you see every day, especially in the 1960’s. Well, that’s “TV” Tommy Ivo, “The Master Showman” for you! The innovator, racer, builder, mechanic, actor and businessman, who was always ahead of his time, forming the sport of drag racing as we know it today.
Tommy Ivo, who is mostly known as “TV” Tommy, is one of the greatest drag racers in history. NHRA ranked him number 25 of the top 50 drivers of all time. This past month, I received the honor to conduct a phone interview with Mr. Ivo. Even through the phone, I could tell that his personality lights up a room and makes everyone feel at ease.
From the very beginning, Tommy was a natural born entertainer. Whether it was singing, dancing, or acting he always lit up the stage with his smile or as others called it, his “Howdy Doody grin.” Believe it or not, Ivo didn’t grow up in a racing family. As a child actor, Tommy learned to manage money at an early age. When he was twelve years old he bought his family a house (with his acting money) in Burbank, California. This is the home that he resides in today.
Always an energetic and industrious person, Tommy has lived his life as seeing each day as a new adventure. He was not afraid to step away from the crowd and in doing so he illustrated the path to his own future. This is why I am proud to call him one of my “drag racing heroes!”
Questions from Paige:
Paige: Mr. Ivo, do you plan to race the restored funny car that was unveiled and presented to you last weekend in Pomona, California at the Winter Nationals by Tony Pedregon?
Mr. Ivo: The car will run at the Nostalgia races and be at the reunions. It has been almost 40 years since I ran that car and the car looked really pretty too! He did a nice job of restoring it! They don’t tease me about being so skinny anymore. It was a little tough getting into Tony’s car because he has the 6 point roll cage, all the stuff they need now a days. I went to climb in and nothing was where it was supposed to be, so I had to jostle around a little bit. Once I settled it, it was good! It brought back a lot of old memories.
Paige: I thought the car looked really neat.
Mr. Ivo: Well, back then that was the era with those cars. They look more like a car than what they do now. Back then we worked with axes and hammers, no wind tunnels. That’s what was so much fun to me, because we would have a car with one motor, two motors or four motors sitting in front or back and funny cars or even jet cars. We would come back from tour and say, oh boy… what are we going to build next year? It was a big science in research and development. Where it is today is more, here is what works and what doesn’t work. So we didn’t make as much money in those days, but boy it would be hard to give up those memories. What good times we had!
Paige: What is the next event you are going to?
Mr. Ivo: I am going to the Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Gainesville, Florida. It started about 20 years ago and I was the first one to get into it. One of my proudest deals too is the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Michigan. They only take one person per year and I am in it with Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt and all the boys. It is pretty special and I am pretty proud of that one.
Mr. Ivo was the Grand Marshall at the Hot Rod Reunion and if you go to his website at www.tommyivo.com you can see the video of his speeches from the Hot Rod Reunion and the Motorsports Hall of Fame. These are really neat videos and I would recommend them to other racing fans.
Paige: Can you say a little more about when you chose drag racing over acting?
Mr. Ivo: I had been acting since I was 7 years old. I was in the movies before they had television. I did that for 20 years and made about 100 movies and a couple hundred TV shows. I did everything from the Western Union delivery boy to co-starring in my own series, The Margie Show. I had been on tour with my twin engine car in 1960; that was the first time anyone ever toured the country from coast to coast making their living off of that and so I came back and built that four engine car, because I thought if they liked two motors then they will love four! Hot Rod Magazine got the idea to take the picture on the set of “Margie.” When they did the studio executives saw it and said “you are not going to be driving that anymore” so they put it in the contract and grounded me! The contract said no drag racing. So, I took Don Prudhomme, who had been on tour with me and was my buddy, and put him in the car as my driver. It was his first professional driving job and I paid him $25.00 to drive the car. Do you think inflation has struck or what? So when I got done with the series, I said ok that’s it, because both the movies and drag racing liked good weather. I said to everyone I am not making movies anymore; I want to go drag racing! So that was the big thing that changed my life. Otherwise, I would have tried to do both movies and drag racing; kind of like having your cake and eating it too.
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