Jerry L. Drake (March 17, 1938 - July 23, 2020) was a legendary pinstriper known as "Spider the Crazy Painter." Among some of Jerry's highlights was scalloping Carl Casper's 1951 Chevrolet, "The Exotic Empress," that went on to win the Nationals in 1961, and David Cassidy's Touring "T", that Carl Casper built for Screen Gems. Jerry was also a Show Director for Carl Casper for over 12 years.
Jerry was born March 17, 1938 in Lansing, Michigan. He was an adopted, only child, and his folks had two, still-born children when their doctor recommended trying for adoption; "My dad worked many years as a “swing man” for a local dairy," Jerry told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama in 2015. "My mother worked as a “Customer Service” agent for the Lansing Credit Union.” As a child, Jerry’s interests were varied; “I was a born collector. I collected matchbook covers, stamps, coins, cereal premiums, shoes, clothes and Korean War comic books.” In 1948, when Jerry was 10, his folks decided to move from the city of Lansing, to the suburbs in a community called Valley Farms. Jerry’s dad started a chicken ranch that grew to 500 chickens; “Guess who got the job of cleaning the “drop boards,” putting new straw on the floors, gathering the eggs, grading, and “candling” them?” Since the community was small it had no high school. There were two main high schools in Lansing; Eastern and Sexton. Jerry attended Eastern. Eastern was the poor kid’s school. After losing so many families to the suburbs, the city was more than willing to contract buses to take high school-bound students back to the city and bill the communities for it; “Once I transferred out of College Prep I had no way to go to Technical school across town or get home after that. For insurance purposes, my dad decided to buy a car in my mother’s name and put me on the car insurance as the secondary driver. In reality, my mother never drove the car at all the time I had it. It was a 1948 Plymouth Club Coupe. It was also called a “Salesman’s Sample” car as it had a huge, elongated trunk for carrying a ton of samples of whatever he was selling. It only seated two people, and was uglier than sin. My trunk was so huge it was always checked for people in it when I went to a drive-in movie theater!”
“My last two years of High School, I switched from College Prep to a Vocational course in printing. I went to trade school half-days for two years.” Jerry took printing like a duck takes water. When he graduated he was awarded the Lansing Club of Printing House Craftsman Award as the top Vocational student in 1956. He also won the Motor Wheel Industrial Arts Award for the same thing, and it was the first time both awards went to the same person. Jerry was a straight A-student from grade school thru High School, and he was competing with students from Sexton High School for the awards.
In the Summer of 1956 Jerry had saved up enough money to finally buy a 1955 Ford Fairlane; “I loved the styling of the ‘55,” Jerry told Sondre when he asked him why he decided to base his first build on the Fairlane. At the time he dated his first wife. Her dad had died of cancer a year previous to Jerry meeting her. He was a Sales Manager for a local Oldsmobile dealer. Ironically her mother’s new boyfriend was also an Oldsmobile salesman. He took a liking to Jerry, and in the Summer of 1956 he drove the Fairlane over to the house for Jerry to look at; "It was traded in by an “Old Maid“ school teacher who had hardly driven it. She wanted a brand-new Oldsmobile with "all the bells and whistles. The car was in pristine condition: Super-low miles, no door dings or dents. The interior was gorgeous! The back seat had never been sat in. The car looked like it had just stepped out of the showroom! I fell in love with it. I think I paid $896 for it. I know it was under $1,000. I’m sure he waived his commission so I could get the car at a great price.” Jerry went to work as Head of Printing Department for the Hotel Olds after graduating; “I originally reported to Bruce Anderson, R.E. Olds’ son-in-law and later to R.E. Olds Anderson, R.E. Olds’ grandson, after his dad retired. I was the second-highest paid person among the 500 people employed there. I lived with my folks and had “money to burn.” That’s how I had the ability to pay cash for my car and money to pour into the customizing of it. When I bought my ‘55 Ford I promptly turned the Plymouth back over to my dad who immediately sold it.”
Jerry wanted to have his Fairlane restyled, but there were few people around that could help him out. Four years prior to buying the Ford, Jerry had ridden motorcycles with a kid named Larry Cooper. Larry’s dad, Lloyd, ran a traditional body shop in Valley Farms, Lansing, named Cooper Body Shop. When Jerry bought his Ford, Lloyd had already done two custom cars at his shop; Terry Smith’s 1954 Ford and Rudy Rodriguez’s 1954 Ford. Terry was Jerry’s rival, and as he was having his car done at Cooper, Jerry didn’t want Terry to know what he was having done. About a mile from Cooper Body Shop there was another body shop, named Blaisdell Body Shop. Blaisdell Body Shop was run and operated by a fellow named Ed Blaisdell. As Lloyd, Ed did also run a traditional body shop. Jerry thought Ed and Lloyd were rivals, so he approached Ed about doing the Fairlane: “Thinking that Lloyd had probably chided Ed with how good they were, I approached Ed on doing my car. He jumped at the chance to show Lloyd what he could do.” Ed gave Jerry good prices on all the work if he could do it on the weekends when his body shop was normally closed. Jerry and Terry were having changes made to their cars every three months. What Jerry did not know, was that Ed Blaisdell and Lloyd Cooper got together every Saturday night at Cooper’s body shop, drinking whiskey and trading bullshit.
Back in the 1950s Jerry was a member and President of the Injectors of Lyons car club. Since Jerry was the only one in the Injectors that had a custom car, he started to travel to the shows with a bigger and older club called the Capitol City Customs; "Several of my best friends were in that club, including Rudy Rodriguez, Bob Wiborn, Ollie Hine, George Wiegand and, my rival at the time, Terry Smith. Because all of us would always take 1st and 2nd place trophies, and sometimes Best Car of the Show or People's Choice, there was always a grown when "the guys from Lansing" showed up. George was at least 10 years older than I was and he was a guy that kept all of us younger "hot shots" in line and out of trouble. We appreciated that."
Jerry started to pinstripe in 1958, and he soon operated under the name "Spider the Crazy Painter." Detroit, Michigan pinstriper Paul Hatton was the earliest pinstriper Jerry ever knew. Jerry knew Paul from the car shows he attended. All promoters encouraged pinstriping "on the floor" because it drew crowds. Paul striped India Ivory on the floor of the Lansing Civic Center in January of 1958. Later, after Jerry mastered striping and weirdo painting, Paul and Jerry were featured at a car show with each of them painting "on the floor" at the same time. That was a hoot for Jerry. In May of 1958 Jerry met Dean Jeffries and George Barris when they were at the Fort Wayne, Indiana Rod & Custom Show. Jerry was so impressed with Dean and his work that he named his first son, Jeffrey Dean Drake.
When Jerry started his pinstriping career, Larry Cooper had Jerry scallop his car. Impressed with the paint job, Larry asked his dad if he and Jerry could do custom painting on the weekends when the body shop was closed. Lloyd said they could, as long as they cleaned-up and were out of there by the next Monday. A great deal for Larry and Jerry. The shop had a ton of paint already, tape machines and excellent painting facilities. Jerry started working out of Cooper Body Shop in 1959. In 1959 Jerry gave the Scarlet Cart a custom paint job. This was in fact the first car Jerry painted in 1959, and it ended up getting a spread in Hot Rod Magazine.
Jerry and Larry did several cars at Cooper Body Shop, until one day a kid from out-of-town brought a 1951 Chevrolet that he wanted Jerry to scallop. The kid had done all the work himself, including the base paint. Jerry laid the scallops with 1/4" tape. Larry shot it, and when they removed the tape, it took the base paint with it all the way down to the bare metal. Lloyd then put his foot down, and told Jerry and Larry that this was the end of them using his business to paint on the weekends. He told them he could get sued, and would propably have to paint the guy's car over. On Monday Jerry bought the biggest striping brush he could find. He striped the scallops with a 1/4" striping line. When the kid saw it he said, "Hey, on your paint box it says: Fine line - the Ultimate in Striping." Jerry replied "I painted that years ago. Fine line is out!" The kid bought his explanation and said that he really liked the job. He left the shop, and won several trophies with the car.
In 1960 Jerry was working at a car show, when Carl Casper contacted the promoter wanting to know if one of his people would introduce him to Jerry. Carl told Jerry that he had seen his work at many car shows, and he wondered if he could lay out a scallop paint job of his choosing. Carl would shoot it, and then Jerry could put on the finishing striping. Carl was around 19 years old at the time, and when he told Jerry that the car was a 1951 Chevrolet, Jerry could just picture a "beater" in his mind. "When Carl showed me pictures of the car I couldn't believe it. I said, My God, who did all of this work?" Carl replied, "I did all of the bodywork, the upholstering, the painting and the engine work myself." Jerry was impressed "This guy was a one-man George Barris. I painted his car, Carl went on to win the Nationals in 1961, he got into Promoting car shows for the ISCA, took over the Lansing Rod & Custom Show, made me his Show Director because of my management background and we became very close friends." After that, Jerry started to paint out of Carl's shop.
In the 1960s Carl Casper was contracted by Screen Gems, the producer of "The Partridge Family," to build a car for them called the David Cassidy Touring "T". After a several month absence, Jerry popped into Carl's shop. "The car was about half done when I saw it and I never dreamed I would be asked to help do a ribbon paint job in 18 candy colors and then stripe it. This ended up being the highlight of my custom painting career." Unfortunately, "The Partridge Family" was cancelled before the episode with the Touring "T" was shot. Carl worked out some sort of a deal with Screen Gems that gave him the right to keep and show the car as David Cassidy's. Because David Cassidy was such a heart-throb to so many teenagers the car, at the time, was a money-maker for Carl as teenagers flocked to his car shows to Oh! and Awe! over the car.
There were two custom car painters and pinstripers in Lansing in the 1960s; Jerry Drake and Gary Glenn. Jerry and Gary were bitter rivals. At the time there were two main high schools in Lansing; Sexton and Eastern. Eastern was the poor kid's school, and both Jerry and Gary graduated from Eastern. Somehow, Jerry got to work on the rich kid's cars from Sexton, while Gary always got the poor kid's cars. In 1974, when Jerry's eyesight and nerves started to go, he quit painting, and sent a lot of work Gary's way. When Gary moved to Orange, California, Jerry wrote him a lot. When Gary moved back to Lansing, the two became close friends. In 1985 the printing company that Jerry had worked for for 25 years went under. He went to work for another printing company that was on C.O.D. with every vendor in town. Lansing was the headquarters for Oldsmobile, and the state relies of the automotive economy. When sales are down the state's economy "goes in the dumper." Jerry's wife worked for United Airlines. In 1987 United Airlines couldn't handle the economic situation in Lansing anymore, and they decided to "pull out" of the city after serving it for 51 years. When this happened, they literally threw an atlas at Jerry's wife and said, "Pick a city we fly to and we'll pay all of your moving expenses." Jerry and his wife decided to move to Aurora, Colorado.
July 23, 2020, Jerry died peacefully in his sleep at home. He died from congestive heart failure and was bed-ridden for several months. Jerry was cremated, and in September of 2021, his wife Claudia came to Michigan with his remains so he could get buried next to his parents.
Cars Pinstriped or Scalloped by Jerry Drake
David Cassidy's Touring "T"
George Wiegand's 1930 Ford Model A Roadster Pick Up - The Barracuda/Sting Ray
Bruce Freeman's 1932 Ford 5-Window Coupe
Dave Peet's 1932 Ford
Carl Casper's 1951 Chevrolet
Howard Tirban’s 1951 Chevrolet - “Lil’ Bitty Pretty One”
Ken Foress' 1952 Mercury Convertible
Terry Smith's 1954 Ford
Dick Bowen's 1955 Chevrolet
Adrienne Hooper's 1956 Mercury
Fred Young's 1957 Chevrolet Convertible
Russ Edgers' 1957 Ford Convertible
Dave Edmonds' 1958 Chevrolet
Jack Struble's 1958 Pontiac
Bill Scott's 1960 Chevrolet Corvette
Dave Edmonds' 1960 Chevrolet Corvette
Bob Barnes' 1960 Ford
Bill Clark's 1960 Oldsmobile
Dell Chandler's 1960 Pontiac Ventura
- This is only a fraction of cars Jerry did work on.
Jerry Drake's Cars
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