Chris Healy is the driver of the Ramblin' Wreck for 2017.
Photo: AJC
Photo: AJC

School pride: Wreck’s driver is son of former Duke mascot

Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., Chris Healy aligned himself with Duke, cheering for the Blue Devils when they made their trip to Joel Coliseum to play Wake Forest and making the occasional trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium. It stood to reason – his father Pat had graduated from Duke, as had an uncle and an aunt. His father, in fact, served as the Blue Devil mascot as a senior.

However, Healy surrendered his love for all things Duke when he enrolled at Georgia Tech in 2013. His devotion to the institute led him to a position that speaks to his love for his school as clearly as his father’s did for his school 42 years ago.

In a word, aooga.

Healy is coming to the end of his one-year term as the driver of the Ramblin’ Wreck, and he was quite pleased to take the famed coupe to Durham, N.C., this weekend to show it off to local alumni at a tailgate event prior to Saturday’s Georgia Tech-Duke game. Healy comes from a family sprinkled with Dookies; he has an uncle and aunt who are also Duke grads.

“We’ve been talking a little bit of trash over the past week,” Healy said. “I’m excited, because it’s a great opportunity for the Wreck to gain some exposure and to interact with alumni that it usually doesn’t, and also providing another opportunity for some cool experiences.”

Healy won the privilege to steward the Wreck by the vote of the Ramblin’ Reck Club, the student spirit group (which prefers the car be likewise called the Reck). The football team follows Healy and the Wreck onto Grant Field for every home game, and he also drove out onto the field for the season opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was a thrilling moment, Healy said, as players locked arms behind him, cheering every time Healy gunned the engine to keep it ready to ride out onto the field.

“It’s been good this year,” said Healy, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and is now pursuing his master’s in the same field. “Also, we’ve been pretty lucky – knock on wood. We’ve avoided any of the crazy situations where the car won’t start the morning of (a game).”

Healy’s father Pat was the Blue Devil (the mascot doesn’t have a given name) in the 1975-76 year. A claim to fame: He was selected for the job by the late Tom Butters, then an assistant athletic director. He later rose to the top position and hired Mike Krzyzewski.

“I knew back then he had an eye for talent,” Pat Healy said.

The mascot outfit was simpler than the version seen stalking around Cameron Indoor Stadium on ESPN. Healy said he wore gym shorts over blue tights with a tail. He made his own pitchfork with materials from a hardware store. He wore a mask that covered his eyes and most of his head.

The elder Healy said that he thinks he was selected at least in part because of his plan to use the role as outreach. As the Blue Devil, he made visits with cheerleaders to the Duke hospital to see children and handed out candy to kids in the stands at games. It was his way to help bridge the gap between the city of Durham and the university.

His son has had similar aims to share the Wreck. On a few occasions in the spring, he commissioned the car for the school’s Stingerette service, which provides nighttime rides to students around campus as a safety measure. He also started a program in which outgoing seniors can sign up for celebratory rides before graduating.

To the younger Healy, who will take a research and development job with Clorox after graduating in the spring, the similarities with his and his father’s ambassadorial role are clear, with some differences.

“There’s less of an opportunity for person-to-person interaction, just because if I’m driving, it’s really hard to be talking and reaching out to people,” he said. “But I try use the horn as my method of communication, like, Hey, we see you, and go Jackets.”

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