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History Charlie Wiggins

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Ryan, Jan 17, 2011.

  1. duste01
    Joined: Nov 5, 2006
    Posts: 1,213


    hats off to Charlie and you for remembering him and sharing the story to keep us thinking about "Stuff".....
  2. autobilly
    Joined: May 23, 2007
    Posts: 3,094


    Who's heard of a man called Charlie Wiggins? Without his racist hurdles and barriers who wouldn't have heard of him! A fitting tribute on this day and on this site to tell the career storey of this unsung automotive hero.
  3. well said!
  4. Slim Pickens
    Joined: Dec 15, 2008
    Posts: 3,348

    Slim Pickens

    Wow, and Thanks Ryan. Very inspirational story. Slim
  5. gnichols
    Joined: Mar 6, 2008
    Posts: 10,678

    from Tampa, FL

    Stone, Woods & Cook were my one of my favorite teams from high school days. Gary.
  6. Once again this Old Fart has learned something new. It happens alot for me here on the HAMB.

    In a previous post someone mentioned the Trotters Car Club from Dayton, Ohio. Here's a couple shots of their Lyndwood dragaster driven by Charles Bryant.

    Attached Files:

  7. catdad49
    Joined: Sep 25, 2005
    Posts: 4,082


    Great post! Thanks,Ryan
  8. jjsound
    Joined: May 27, 2008
    Posts: 388


    That is a very good story indeed! I agree that it is upsetting to think of the kind of things that have gone on in this country's past. No person should ever have to endure that kind of hardship. I often find myself dwelling on upsetting matters like this one but try to remind myself that we need to learn from these things and look and move forward to make life great for everyone.

    I'm not a racing fan really but stories like this whether about racing, sports, or general acceptance are truly inspiring. Makes me feel like a jackass for not getting out and doing more with life and often taking for granted how good we really have it.
  9. ThirdGen
    Joined: Nov 29, 2008
    Posts: 452

    from Wales, ME

    Thanks for that story Ryan. Very nicely written, and nice to now know that piece of history.
  10. Asphalt Outlaw Hero
    Joined: Dec 9, 2006
    Posts: 969

    Asphalt Outlaw Hero
    from Dixie

    Nice post.I grew up in the south and remember the prejudice when tracks were integrated.After a while it was racing as usual.
    I could never understand why cars weren't number one to people.Everything else should have fallen in place.
  11. Thanks for posting this. People like Charlie Wiggins are an inspiration...
  12. BrerHair
    Joined: Jan 30, 2007
    Posts: 4,373


    Great stuff, Ryan. Perseverence in the face of adversity. True character.
  13. jgang
    Joined: Feb 22, 2009
    Posts: 238

    from hamburg ny

    great post, thanks ryan. i will have to share this with my history class tomorrow.
  14. Gaters
    Joined: Dec 29, 2007
    Posts: 564


    Great story about an inspirational American.
  15. ChadMartin11
    Joined: Nov 16, 2010
    Posts: 36

    from NC

    Great story. Thank you
  16. Kume
    Joined: Jan 23, 2010
    Posts: 859


    Great stuff, thanks for sharing. In his autobiography, John Gerber mentions a bloke called 'Doc White' racing against him in a dodge in the mid 1920s. I guess the north was a different ball game in the 20s . Would love more info on Doc and his dodge.
  17. Hero - Great article.
  18. sophisto79
    Joined: Apr 21, 2010
    Posts: 184


    Thank you Ryan,

    This history reminds us all that beyond the cars, beyond the culture, there are great men and women that challenge adversity and injustice driven by their courage and their passion.

    I was reminded of a TRJ article on Japanese American Hot Rodders. I'm half Asian American, so this intrigued me. But what inspired me was the idea that even with the ignorance and paranoia that lead to internment and the specter of racism ingrained in American society, on the lakes, they were all hot rodders.

    That's why I love it here...through it all, we're all hot rodders (oh yeah, those kustom guys/gals are ok too!).

  19. Thanks Ryan, The love of fast cars kept him coming back for more!That is a great story !ROB
  20. Sheep Dip
    Joined: Dec 29, 2010
    Posts: 1,572

    Sheep Dip
    from Central Ca

    Read the whole thing and it sounds like Charlie had his shit together when it came to building and tuning cars. too bad the times he lived in existed in this country. Who knows he could have been one of the greatest legends out there...Wiggins, Yunick, Landy....
  21. Kaptain Kustom
    Joined: Apr 7, 2010
    Posts: 138

    Kaptain Kustom
    from Finland

    Great, inspirational story, thanks!

    It's important to know how life was in the past. Makes us appreciate certain things we sometimes take for granted, as well as to think if we could change some unjust things of our own time that we are used to see as inevitable.

    I'm really fortunate to say I've been living in one of the most egalitarian state of the world, but it won't take much for it to slip away bit by bit, if we don't think our values through and act upon them honesty and unselfishly... That's one reason to think about stories like that and to realize it was real and that all those people (also the assholes) were mostly just people like us.
  22. 1950ChevySuburban
    Joined: Dec 20, 2006
    Posts: 6,206

    Member Emeritus
    from Tucson AZ

    I'd never heard of Charlie Wiggins before, but the way you introduced us to him and his story is timeless.
    Awesome. Simply awesome.
  23. Racer12
    Joined: Feb 23, 2008
    Posts: 125


    "For Gold and Glory" is a great book! There is also a documentary abouth this subject. I highly reccomend both of htem.

    Bob Shutt
  24. G V Gordon
    Joined: Oct 29, 2002
    Posts: 5,680

    G V Gordon
    from Enid OK

    Winners win, plain and simple. They find a way where others see only obstacles. Driven by passion for the thing they love, the go after it like a drowning man fights for another breath. By all measures Charlie Wiggins was a winner. Thanks for a great and timely story Ryan.
  25. Michael Ferner
    Joined: Nov 12, 2009
    Posts: 778

    Michael Ferner

    Great story, yes, but unfortunately it's bunk - at least most of it! It's from a book soemone wrote without background knowledge of racing in the twenties and thirties, and who relied exclusively on the stories and memories of people who knew Wiggins. The sad thing is, some of those stories and memories were clearly wishful thinking, mixed with a lot of quite hilarious nonsense and even a bit of hagiography. Actually, very sad that the author didn't see through this, for the story of Charlie Wiggins is still interesting and very much insight-providing, but the book he wrote is a wasted opportunity. It's not history nor fiction, it's "faction" at best.

    It's true that the AAA, the main sanctioning body in the US before WW2, practised segregation and officially didn't allow "non-caucasians" to compete until 1947, but I say "officially" because there were, in fact, several Native Americans and Japanese drivers, mechanics and owners that were members of the AAA before WW2. So far, I haven't found conclusive evidence of Afro-American AAA members before Joie Ray in 1949/50, so it's possible that there were indeed none.

    In any case, a non-caucasian definitely faced tougher odds than a white man, so without a question Wiggins and his friends had a hard time making a career in racing, but some did, and some were quite a lot more successful than Charlie. Bobby Wallace was probably the best known and most succesful "colored" driver in the US in those days, followed by Bill Jeffries and Bill Carson. Others who were pretty much on par with Wiggins, both in success and prominence, were William Valentine, Malcolm Hannon, Wilbur Gaines, Sam Buford or Barney Anderson - Gaines was also promoting some of the "all-black" races.

    Those races, by the way, were more of a circus attraction, although they were probably pretty competitive affairs anyway. The deal was, at least in the beginning, for white owners to provide the cars, and have the black drivers attract a new audience. It worked, and soon some of the better drivers had their own cars, and had several races to compete in over the year. Additionally, some of the second-tier sanctioning bodies did not mind having black drivers in their roster, and Wallace, amongst others, had some respectable results in "open competition". So far, I have found Wiggins only once in a "mixed field", and he didn't excel, for whatever reason.

    So we come to the "bunk" part of the story. There's little doubt that Wiggins was a competent mechanic, as most drivers were in those days, but his prowess is vastly exaggerated. Looking at pictures of his car, it's pretty obvious that the "Wiggins Special" was a standard Fronty-Ford - you could order those cars per catalogue, complete or in parts. Most likely, Charlie did what many white men did also: take a Model T, order some special parts from Frontenac, and then assemble your own racer.

    "He tested the car on dirt tracks and reached Indy type speeds" - yeah, and the moon is made of cheese! Fronty-Fords were very quick on dirt, but hopeless on the Speedway - two different kettle of fish. Nobody was dumb enough to enter one at Indy (except for a couple of low-buck efforts with special add-ons, and they weren't successful either), and as said before, the segregation rule was not "unwritten". It's a bit like the nonsense about the Haugdahl "three-mile-a-minute" run, you can't enter Indy unless you are a member of the AAA - so he was either turned down by the AAA, or a member despite segregation, but turned down by the IMS because of being hopeless, or outside of the rules. Don't forget that his car was not eligible to run at Indy during all the years he was active - it was either oversize in engine capacity (1923-29) or lacked a mechanician's seat (1930-37)!!

    "The Gold & Glory race was covered nationally by all of the major news sources" - not so! Local papers usually printed previews in order to drum up spectators, but results were rarely (if ever!) published. It really was like the circus coming to town...

    "In 1930, Harry MacQuinn (a well known white driver) " - not in 1930, he wasn't! Still an "outlaw" then, the same as Charlie Wiggins.

    "In 1934, “Wild Bill” Cummings asked Charlie to be his crew chief at the Indianapolis 500. The AAA refused Bill’s request, so Bill hired Charlie as a “janitor” and then put him to work on his car at night. Bill ran away with the 500 in one of the race’s best performances ever. To his death, “Wild Bill” gave all of the credit to Charlie." - what a load of bull! Cummings drove for a well known and very successful team from Chicago, whose chief mechanic was Cotton Henning, a respected man as any in Gasoline Alley. All of Charlie's experience was with Ford engines, what sort of help could he have been to a crew trying to make a Miller run fast? And how could he have worked "at night" without this becoming known?? And why would a team need a janitor at Indy in the first place??? The author very clearly has a very childish imagination about how racing was conducted at Indy!!! It's certainly not true that Bill Cummings gave any credit to Charlie Wiggins, or it would have made the papers back then. He was one of the biggest stars in the US those days, like Rick Mears or Bobby Rahal - it's just because he's dead, the author apparently thinks he can state whatever he wants, nobody will know better anyhow. That's not writing history, that's just crap.

    End of rant.

    P.S. If you want to read a really good book about black drivers and segregation, and not fanciful stuff like this, get the Joie Ray biography - it's much, much better.
  26. Kettleman
    Joined: Mar 28, 2006
    Posts: 149


    Great Story, Thanks!
  27. kurtis
    Joined: Mar 13, 2009
    Posts: 1,990

    from Australia

    I have!
    Heavyweight Champ Jack Johnson - but that's inconclusive.

    Nice rant Michael. Thanks.

    Chuck D said it best in '88.
  28. f1 fred
    Joined: Apr 29, 2005
    Posts: 515

    f1 fred
    from mn

    Great story, Thank you!
  29. Ryan
    Joined: Jan 2, 1995
    Posts: 18,969

    from Austin, TX
    Staff Member

    I actually got all of my facts from the PBS archive. I didn't use any other sources... PBS is pretty good but, you might be right... There might be a lot of glorification there. However, a few facts are pretty easily verifiable:

    1. Charlie Wiggins won three G&G events.

    2. I found a ton of quotes from Wild Bill about Wiggins. In a 1934 post race interview for Time News Reals, he called "Bill Wiggins the best mechanic" he knew.

    So maybe it is some kind of an exotic wool pulling, but if it is it all started in the 1930s... and PBS bought it.
  30. Ryan
    Joined: Jan 2, 1995
    Posts: 18,969

    from Austin, TX
    Staff Member

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