Thursday, January 17, 2019

Born in Brooklyn, the New York native—an Italian guy with a St. Patrick’s Day birthday—was a neighborhood boy through and through. Growing up, Joey was a regular grease monkey, most happy under the hood of a car. But his great love was always behind the wheel, and he lived to race cars. He was able to make that dream happen in his 20s when his alter ego “Joe Black” was born. He was well known on the race circuit for his distinctive Green Hornet during the ’60s and ’70s. He was a regular at local Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., to closest racetrack to his New York home.

joe cirruzzo sr After his racing career came to an end in the early ’70s after a serious transmission fire, Joey started doing work for a local funeral home, anything from serving as a pallbearer to driving for the families. Little did he know that he was building his second career in chauffeured ground transportation. The company would start as A Elegant Limousines, later to grow into ELS Chauffeured Transportation.

Everyone knew Joey—the little guy with a lot of spunk. While he got his start in the retail side of business like weddings and funerals—which also included quite a few celebrities—it wasn’t long before he tapped into the other lucrative markets like corporation. He was also an early adopter of the network model, sending work to numerous partners all over the country.

Longtime friend Rich Azzolino of Gateway Global says that he was influential in getting him involved with associations. “He was just one of those guys,” he says. “Day in and day out he was all about the industry, both large and small operators. I not only lost a mentor, but one of my dearest friends. He just had the biggest heart. He made me laugh, he got me into trouble, he did it all—but it’s those times that are among my fondest memories of him. I was able to sit with him for a few hours a couple of months ago and we just laughed and told stories. Those are the moments that I will always remember. We all lost a great champion of the industry.”

Smart as a whip and always armed with the latest information, he was an advocate of the small company, often giving of his time and energy to help a fellow operator who needed some business or just some good advice. No matter how large the business grew, he remained that “neighbor” type of guy, always making sure that his attention was focused on the smaller companies. He joined the NLA’s board of directors to fight for those operators—the majority of the industry—on a national level. He served his first term from 2002 to 2005, and he was reelected again in 2008. He was honored with the NLA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to him at his home this past summer.

Joey also served on the board of the Taxi, Limousine and Paratransit Association, as well as several local associations. He was a regular at Airport Ground Transportation Association meetings.

David Eckstein of Valera Global met Joey in 1991 while shopping for affiliates. They hit it off instantly. “Little did I know how life changing that chance meeting with Joe would be until many years later. He was politically active and, bless his soul, a real pain about it. He told me that I should run for the NLA board, and finally after talking me into it and with his support I was elected. Joe helped me grow, thanks to my newly expanding knowledge resource base and by introducing me to some of the best operators in our industry. It’s an experience that I’ll always cherish and hopefully continue to learn from. I’ll miss you forever Joe, Mr. Spaghetti and Meatballs.”

Joey wasn’t the only Cirruzzo to be bitten by the chauffeured ground transportation bug. Both daughter Julia and son Joseph Jr. are also a part of the industry. Julia runs A Elegant Luxury Transportation while Joseph runs ELS Chauffeured Transportation, both of which are based on Staten Island.

His daughter Julia has nothing but warm memories of the time she spent with her father over the last two years. Family was important to the ­Cirruzzos. She has received dozens of cards and letters from people who were touched by Joey’s generosity and friendship over the years, which she has come to cherish. “I still feel like he’s here with me every day. I sometimes find myself wanting to call him; I don’t know if that will ever go away. My sons miss him like crazy because they were very close. He really was the best dad I could have ever asked for.”

While he stopped racing years ago, he had the chance at some nostalgia through a Green Hornet restoration project, one that he took up in 2012. The tricked-out car, built on a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere with his signature green shade, will continue to be shown on the race circuit. Joey was also honored this past year at the place where his career began: Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. He was joined by many of the racing greats in a celebration of their achievements—a proud moment for Joe Black.

He died peacefully at the home he shared with his family on Staten Island on November 27. Before his illness, he split his time between his homes in the Clearwater/Tampa area and New York. He is survived by his companion of nearly two decades, Kathy. He also leaves behind an extended family that includes daughter, Julia, and son, Joseph; and four grandsons, Michael, ­Joseph, Charles, and Angelo. [CD01.14]