Judy Stropus, Sports Cars, Class of 2021
To say Judy Stropus is unique stretches the word. After World War II, five-year-old Judy arrived in the U. S. as a displaced person from Lithuania. By early adulthood she was a treasured team member for many including Roger Penske. Judy, who was always "fascinated with words," learned English ("easy for a child," she says), then became a master of numbers, recording speeds of the fastest race cars in the world, notating tenths-of-a-second separations with a handheld watch.
"I learned timing and scoring from the Queens Sports Car Club," she recalled. "I was quickly picked up by the Mercury Cougar team at a five-hour-long Trans-Am race at Marlboro, Maryland. I was paid $25. Afterwards they called saying, please do the rest of the year for us, and I was paid well."
Thus began a vocation that placed an impeccably dressed woman at the top of a one-of-a-kind profession: No one could match her. And she shamed the early computers.
"I always wanted my helpers to be as obsessed as I was," she said. "Eventually, I understood they knew I was in charge. But, based on early life's experiences and upbringing — in my family there were surgeons, scientists, skilled professionals — I believed that everyone else was better than I was. It was paramount that we did an accurate job for these high-profile teams. That was a lot of pressure. Once you have the reputation of being very good, you have to live up to it."
Driving a race car from curiosity, Judy expanded her technical role into competition.
"I learned so much from the drivers I was hanging around with, (Mark) Donohue, (Peter) Revson, (George) Follmer, (Al) Holbert. Al helped me get a car, then he'd fly in to different tracks to give me driving lessons. I would listen to recaps of the races. I absorbed a lot. I enjoyed the competition but creating a business and respect for my abilities and, of course, making a living were my number one goals. I was always a top runner in the VW Cup Series — my fellow drivers are still my good friends — but my work kept me from doing the entire series.
"Sadly, I knew many drivers who were killed in those early days. Mark and Peter's deaths had a major effect on me. It made me say to myself: Just do your best, try to achieve your goals, because life can be taken away from you at any time. I came to accept these early deaths as part of life. Today I cringe when I watch major crashes, and yet the drivers are walking away. That pleases me to no end. I lost too many good friends.
"After retirement, I began to become more aware of other people's personalities, qualities, and quirks. I feel like I am now grown up, and can apply my new knowledge, to what I am doing today — and it's working well. My PR/consulting business is thriving and I'm grateful for that."
Judy adds with a laugh: "I did try a venture into a promotion for a ship designer and did a terrible job!"
I doubt that, but when you're the best, and you love doing what you're doing with people you like, you can't beat that.
By Sylvia Wilkinson
Sylvia Wilkinson, one of Judy's timing/scoring (graduate) students, is now a novelist, racing journalist and fellow dinosaur who spent many hours as Judy's 24-hour helper at Le Mans and Daytona. Her most recent book, "50/50, The Story of Champion Race Car Driver John Paul Jr.," was published in 2018.