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100HP V8 Dirt Track Racer from 1949 - Ran at Suicide Bowl in Waco, TX - Pic and Story

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Elrod, Sep 6, 2006.

  1. Elrod
    Joined: Aug 7, 2002
    Posts: 3,525


    I thought this was a neat picture to put up here, so here it goes.

    I needed to get a Model A radiator I had fixed in a hurry for a 400 mile trip I was taking in the '30 this Labor Day weekend. I called around to find out if there were any old timers in the Dallas area who were experienced with working on the old stuff and found out about Joe Watson at Watson Radiator in Irving, TX. I brought it down to him during my lunch break and started looking around his shop which looked like it had been around for 50 years. It was good to see that next to his work bench, he was working on two 37 Ford Truck radiators.

    While he was soldering on a new lower neck for me, I was looking at the pictures on his wall. I spotted a wrinkled picture of a young Joe Watson and another man sitting in a race car being pulled by a 40 Ford Sedan. License plate read 1949. I asked him about the car.

    "That there is E. A. Johnson's car (driver). He's long been dead now. It had a 100 horse Flathead V8 in it with dual carbs and Edlebrock heads. We used to run that car out at Suicide Bowl in Waco, Tx and at another track in Ft. Worth that I don't remember the name of now. We built that car around 1949 or 1950. I guess the license plates say 1949, so that's about when the car was built" I spotted the late 30's wide five wheels on the car, and you can make out that it's built on an A frame. It also has torque tube mufflers which he says are from a mid 30s Chevy driveline, but the whisbone bungs still present on them look Ford to me.

    He said he thought it was an in an out gear and that he remembered using the outside hand brake to quickly lock up the rear wheels while being pushed when he wanted to jamb the trans into gear and start the car. "once it was running, you just had to go! If you killed the car, it was over" He also remembered going around the track and using the brake to throw dirt up into the stands at the end of the race as they came around the corner. "I liked doing that alot" he said.

    I asked what happened to the car, and he said in the mid to late 50s, E.A. sold the car to some guy that turned the car into a street car and drove it. He didn't know much more about the car.

    In this picture, Joe Watson is the man standing on the trailer with his foot up on the wheel. I also got a side shot of the car. I asked if they were buick portholes, and he said they were just decorative circles.

    Suicide Bowl was a 1/4 mile dirt track in Waco Tx that saw a lot of Dallas racers testing their metal. A little history about the track...
    Suicide Bowl

    After silt and drought rendered the old Lake Waco almost useless and before the new Lake Waco dam was built, a quarter-mile dirt racetrack known as the Suicide Bowl hosted races every weekend. The track was located just off Valley Mills Drive on Scyene Rd. then and now sits at the bottom near the center of the current lake.

    Harold McCain, 76, recalled promoting and driving in races at the track in 1956:

    "The Suicide Bowl was basically an old gravel pit that sat down in a hole," he said. "I remember people would park their cars on top of the banks in the turns and sit on their car hoods and watch the races. Drivers came from Dallas and all over the place to run on Friday nights."

    Despite its ominous name, McCain said he couldn't recall any driver being seriously hurt or killed during any races.

    Aw, nuts!

    Some other research I found was that they featured womens races, motorcycle races and midget car races on Sunday nights.

    The Gas Station in the background of the picture with the trailer and the 40 sedan is still there but now long closed. It's located at Irving Blvd and Main St. and was owned by EA Johnson and Thomas Earl Futz. In the side view picture, you can read "Irving Lumber Co" on the building in the background.

    Hope you enjoy the pictures, and if you know more info about the car, feel free to post!

    Oh yeah... the "A" made the 400 mile trip this weekend, drove into the night in the pouring rain and the radiator worked great the whole time! If you need something worked on, go see Joe. He's a great old guy with a passion for working on old stuff!

    Attached Files:

  2. Bruce Lancaster
    Joined: Oct 9, 2001
    Posts: 21,205

    Bruce Lancaster

    The body is '26-7 T roadster with cut down doors...
  3. NoSurf
    Joined: Jul 26, 2002
    Posts: 3,972

    from Chester NH

    Cool story.

    Thanks for taking the time to post the pics too.
  4. Ryan
    Joined: Jan 2, 1995
    Posts: 17,703

    from Austin, TX
    Staff Member

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  5. 40 & 61 Fords
    Joined: May 17, 2006
    Posts: 1,939

    40 & 61 Fords

    These are the threads that I look forward to!
    Great story, writing and photos!
  6. Rad. When I lived in Waco I talked to an old timer a few times a month and he had mentioned the old Suicide Bowl at the bottom of the lake. He said he'd dig up some pictures, but I haven't talked to him in over a year. I should stop back by there next time I pass through.
  7. Is that your new Cabriolet he is sitting in??
  8. Pops
    Joined: Jul 10, 2006
    Posts: 486

    Member Emeritus
    from Tulsa

    Great story, great photo's, if I could, I would take my radiator problems to him, and try to get him talking...

  9. Big Tony
    Joined: Mar 29, 2006
    Posts: 3,590

    Big Tony

    Great story and i will definately keep him in mind when i need radiator work done. Stories from old timers like that are killer. Thanks again
  10. MarkX
    Joined: Apr 8, 2003
    Posts: 1,232

    from ...TX

    Thats just down the street from where my old Body Shop was............. Watson did my 52 Chevy radiator and my gas tank. cool old dude
  11. MarkX
    Joined: Apr 8, 2003
    Posts: 1,232

    from ...TX

    if i remember correctly his hours are 6am to 2pm m-f
  12. 21tat
    Joined: Jun 8, 2006
    Posts: 830


    Very cool story. Thanks. Nice pics too!
  13. Elrod
    Joined: Aug 7, 2002
    Posts: 3,525


    Yeah. Brought it up there yesterday for him to check out the radiator he did. He showed me pics of his Tudor he had in the 50s. He jumped right in the car without even asking, and was grinning ear to ear.

  14. Elrod
    Joined: Aug 7, 2002
    Posts: 3,525


    Oh yeah. I think I remember you talking about that guy. You walked in with the radiator, and he ID'd it immediately. He knows his stuff...

  15. stan292
    Joined: Dec 6, 2002
    Posts: 857


    Great story! Thanks for sharing.
  16. fleetbob50
    Joined: May 1, 2006
    Posts: 306

    from Waco,Texas

    I showed this pick around waco and an old flathead mechanic and lover of old cars had two additional pics of the car. It also ran at a track known as Shady oaks on white rock creek just north of town. There were three of four other tracks here and in Temple to the south. This kind of thing might make a good story for the Hot Rod Journal. Most all these old time racers are gone now. Gordon Wooly still lives here and Bill White is still at little river.
  17. Jeff Norwell
    Joined: Aug 20, 2003
    Posts: 12,437

    Jeff Norwell
    Staff Member

  18. Elrod
    Joined: Aug 7, 2002
    Posts: 3,525


    Do you think you could get a scan of those two additional pictures? Watson let me borrow those pics for about a week. he was pretty cool about it.
  19. Elrod
    Joined: Aug 7, 2002
    Posts: 3,525


    a HUGE thanks to fleetbob50!! He came across two additional pictures of the roadster and sent me some scans. It's got a really killer nose treatment. Anyone recognize what that grill shell is? The cross bars look custom, but it looks much wider than a 32...

    Something I was noticing is that the first picture up top of the car on the trailer does not have the portholes in the hood and the paint on the rear of the car is a little different. Maybe earlier shots...

    I'd love to print these out to show to Watson.

    Anyways, enjoy! Thanks again Robert!

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  20. Flathead Youngin'
    Joined: Jan 10, 2005
    Posts: 3,530

    Flathead Youngin'

    simply awesome!!!

    i love the "look" those ole' guys have.....just look at him....he looks like a tough ole' that brash firely looks..... (may not be though)

    as a collective whole, we ought to do a blitz and make a concerted effort to go interview, borrow pics to scan and record stories of these ole' guys....the ones that were "known" 50 years ago are still known today......guys like this will pass on and his stories will be lost in time...
  21. Elrod
    Joined: Aug 7, 2002
    Posts: 3,525


    Hey Fleetbob!

    I went by Joe Watson's shop today and showed him these additional pictures. I didn't bring these names with me, but Joe did say that the big name he remembered from Souicide Bowl was Gordon Wooly. He said that one of the reasons he remembered him was that a lot of the guys would make passes at his wife because she was so good lookin. HAHA!

    When I showed up with the pictures, he was very excited. He said that the car's name was "Question Mark" He said that they wouldn't run with a number, but just a question mark on the side of the car. The car's engine was a 100HP flathead block bored .040 over with Eddlebrock heads and dual carbs. The guy with the hat in the photos you sent is C.A. Johnson, owner of the Question Mark. He also said that he thought the guy in the checkered sweather standing in the bottom right picture (looks like he's about to jump in the air) looked like a fireman that worked with him. His name was James D. Mitchel, but went by the name of "Pistol" Mitchel. Joe Watson had a picture of Pistol Mitchel on his wall at his radiator shop in his fireman's uniform.

    Joe then said, "You know... Ed Sissom is still alive and lives just around the corner. He used to race, along with A.D. Trowell, Speak Freeding and Frank Matthews. (Joe thought Frank Matthews was pictured with the Question Mark almost cut off on the rigt of the photo in the driver's quarter photo.) I have now found out after doing some research that all these drivers were consistant race winners at Devil's Bowl here in Dallas for 5-10 years straight.

    Anyways, Joe and I jumped in the car and went over to Ed Sissom's house, who's 88 years old now, and found that he had gone up to the cafe to eat. We then swung by the cafe, and he was there with his son. They recognized the number 8 car and thought that it was called "Eight Ball" but couldn't remember the owner or driver, but seemed to recollect that it was run by two brothers in Waco... Earnest something maybe. They recognized the photos (again without me saying anything about your above posting) as Shady Oaks. Ed said that he remembered Gordon Wooly ran a yellow roadster that they called "The Grasshopper" They were just starting to eat, but said that he has some more old photos of the old racing days. So, I'm going to try to check those out sometime soon and see if I can scan any of them to post more info on some old time Texas racing. Joe Watson also said that he thought Ed was in the racing association, or timing association around Dallas.

    I just did a search on the Dallas Morning News website, and Ed Sissom was constantly winning races here in Dallas at Devil's bowl. I've found page after page after page showing him winning and performing amazing feats. I also Found a few stories talking about the Question Mark, driven by Jimmy Schmitt. I've attached a few in this post.

    The first is from June 19, 1949 telling about the Question Mark's former owner, Leon Peavy being killed in a midget race a week after winning in the Question Mark "Sunday Races Dedicated to Leon Peavy"

    The second is from April 9th, 1951 and talkd about the Question Mark throwing a front wheel in the 10th lap and Ed Sisson, the guy I spoke to at lunch, winning the race.

    The third is from May 6h, 1951 and talks about the Question Mark making a comeback after a bad year in 1950.

    The last one being from April 30th, 1951 "Trowell Sets Fast Pace in Devil's Bowl"

    Attached Files:

  22. seymour
    Joined: Jan 22, 2004
    Posts: 5,125

    from PNW

    damn... that's awesome
  23. chicken coupe cook
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 220

    chicken coupe cook

  24. chicken coupe cook
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 220

    chicken coupe cook


    Pic of the Grasshopper taken last July.
    Joe Smith restored it and he and Gordon Woolley
    took it for a spin around Heart O' Texas Speedway!

  25. Dans28Tdr
    Joined: Apr 13, 2007
    Posts: 41


    Great story. Thanks. Racing back in the 50's and 60's was very different than today. I look forward to more.

  26. Holy Crap! Thanks for taking the time to record this texas history! Thanks for sharing, I love this forum!
  27. gibraltar72
    Joined: Jan 21, 2011
    Posts: 260

    from Osseo Mi.

    You are right about the old guys slipping away unnoticed a few weeks ago an old racer from my area died. His obit didn't even mention that to many of us he was Louie J. his given name was Luther J Stemen but the race track announcers just called him Louie J he was always a top ten racer at local tracks Butler, Manchester occasionally Angola. He to the best of my knowledge always drove a model A sedan dressed in silver #88 on its side in black and red. I know racing was a very important part of his life but for whatever reason it wasn't even mentioned.
  28. gnichols
    Joined: Mar 6, 2008
    Posts: 9,811

    from Tampa, FL

    Neat post. I've seriously considered taking out about foot of metal down the center line of an old Model A coupe while bobbing the tail. The end result would fit an 30 inch wide frame with about a 90 inch wheel base with the running gear of an early / mid 60's dirt modified. Some day... Gary
  29. Randy in Oklahoma
    Joined: Sep 18, 2008
    Posts: 302

    Randy in Oklahoma
    from Oklahoma

    I have very vague memories of going to the old Suicide Bowl race track. Seems like it was out somewhere around the old Lake Waco.
  30. hugh m
    Joined: Jul 18, 2007
    Posts: 2,130

    hugh m
    from ct.

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