A true racer, a true gentleman
May 27, 2011 | view archive
Jigger Sirois is one of those rare individuals who always manages to find the silver lining. Throughout his life, he has taken the foul balls that have come his way and, time and again, managed to turn them around and even help others in the process.
You can tell there is something special about Jigger from the moment he says hello. His pure of heart sincerity affects everyone the same way.
During a recent visit to the Children’s Museum, after he signed an autograph for a previously surly tween, we overheard her remarking to her peers as she walked away, “I’m going to have a smile on my face for the rest of the day.”
That’s just what kind of a guy Jigger is. He spreads joy wherever he goes.
Jigger had a major stuttering impediment for most of his life. During the 1950s when he was growing up, parents were advised to say nothing about a stuttering child’s condition, believing that drawing attention to the stuttering would make it worse. That didn’t stop others from outside the Sirois family from mocking the future racer’s speech.
Rather than taking revenge on those who made fun of him, Jigger found a way to turn these unpleasant experiences into an opportunity to do good for others. Knowing firsthand the difficult and often painful experiences a stuttering child faces, Jigger made it his personal goal to help others living with this disorder.
This letter was written in 1969 to Jigger by his father, Frenchy Sirois, the well-loved chief Indy car mechanic on three winning 500 racing teams in the 1950s. Frenchy had just witnessed his son's televised interview following his renowned failed attempt to qualify for the 33rd pole position of the 58th running of the Indianapolis 500. Frenchy's praise for his son stemmed from the fact that, in the excitement of the moment, Jigger did not stutter for the first time in his life.
After reaching out for help on his own, Jigger discovered the Stuttering Foundation and now has dedicated his life to aid in stuttering research. Working with this organization, Jigger and his wife Jaunita have been actively involved in making resources readily available for children and adults with stuttering problems by making donations of self help materials to public libraries across the United States.
Jigger demonstrated this spirit of giving early in his racing career. After a debilitating accident in 1962, Jigger found himself on disability while he was recovering from his injuries. During this time, he heard that a promising driver had been in an even more serious accident.
The driver, Billy Garrett, was financially troubled and seeking support. Jigger’s compassion for his fellow racer compelled him to send all of his own disability funding to help Garrett’s cause. He sought no recognition and thought nothing of it, as is his way, until, in 1964, he received for this deed the Bettenhausen Memorial award ‘given only to those who have done an outstanding job in help and aid to his fellow man in auto racing’.
Later that year, he determined to get back into auto racing. Jigger was in his sprint car, preparing for his first race since the accident. According to Jigger, he was feeling apprehensive but ready to overcome his fears and continue his racing career.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a man with a deliberate gait making his way over to the car. It was Billy Garrett. He wanted to thank Jigger for thinking enough of him to help him through a very hard year.
Jigger was inspired and invigorated by Garrett’s sentiment and went on to win the sprint.
He even managed to turn three failed attempts in 1969, 1974 and 1975, to make the cut for the Indianapolis 500 into a positive thing. The fact that Jigger handled these set-backs with a gentleman’s manners, placing no blame, raised him in the esteem of the entire racing community.
He is the namesake for The Jigger Award, a hard luck award given annually to the driver or racing team who has had the worst luck at the track during the month leading up to the Indianapolis 500. The Jigger award has possibly made his name more recognizable than it would have been if he’d made the race in the first place.
These are the shoes that Jigger wore in 1969, when trying out for the pole position in that year’s Indy 500. After being waved off his fourth lap on the first day of tryouts, two more attempts were also canceled—the second with another yellow flag, and the third when his car’s engine blew out. The fact that Jigger handled this set-back with a gentleman’s manners, placing no blame, raised him in the esteem of the entire racing community.
Now Jigger is doing it again. When faced with the thought of distributing the collection of racing memorabilia that reflects his family’s rich history in the racing world, Jigger felt challenged to find an equitable way to divide the memories. With no children of his own to inherit the collection, he decided to organize a charity auction to benefit Riley Hospital for Children. “I just think it’s a fine way to make a contribution, Everybody wins. Children’s hospitals are wonderful. They add to the future immeasurably.”
Everyone at Antique Helper has been touched by the experience we have had working with Jigger Sirois. He is a rare individual, and we are grateful for the opportunity we have had to work with him while creating the Sirois Family Racing Memorabilia Auction to Benefit Riley Hospital for Children, taking place on Friday, June 3, 2011.