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J.C. Elder, celebrity NASCAR crew chief, dead at 73

STATESVILLE, N.C. - J.C. Elder, known as "Suitcase Jake" during his long tenure as a NASCAR crew chief with the likes of star drivers David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip, has died. He was 73.

Elder died Wednesday of natural causes at Autumn Care of Statesville, the Bunch-Johnson Funeral Home said Thursday.

Elder was the crew chief for Pearson's 1968 and 1969 series champions and directed Earnhardt to his first Cup victory in 1979 at Bristol.

"[He] was one the first crew chiefs in NASCAR to achieve celebrity status with our fans," NASCAR said Thursday. "He was a pioneer in that regard, and his celebrity was well deserved. . . . Our sport has lost one of its legends."

Elder dropped out of grade school and couldn't read or write. He was known as "Suitcase Jake" because he frequently switched teams.

He leaves children Randy, Andy and Sandy Elder Maxwell, four sisters and two brothers. He was preceded in death by wife Debbie.- AP

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