The Next Step in Diversity: Recognizing the CSA

Photo: Charlie Wiggins, star of the Colored Speedway Association

Indycar took a significant step forward last month with the announcement of the Race for Equality and change initiative, a program to bring more minority drivers into auto racing. This is a good step in the right direction. I also think Indycar should follow Major league Baseball’s lead and recognize the drivers of the Colored Speedway Association. Major League Baseball has awarded the Negro Leagues major league status. I think the CSA drivers deserve the same recognition.

The American Automobile Association ruled open wheel racing in the United States with an iron hand. Drivers who participated in non AAA sanctioned races were banned from racing for a time. The association made it clear from the beginning that blacks were not allowed to race in AA sanctioned events.

In 1910 Barney Oldfield arranged a match race against world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. He wanted to stage it at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but Carl Fisher would not allow a black man to drive at his track. The race took place at Sheepshead Bay, New York, with Oldfield winning easily. Oldfield was immediately suspended by the AAA. Fan pressure forced the association to lift the ban by the start of the next season.

Led by Charlie Wiggins, the CSA ran cars that had run in the Indianapolis 500. Mike Boyle, most well known as the owner of Wilbur Shaw’s winning Maserati in 1939-1940, supplied cars and financial support to the league. Their race were on several of the tracks on which the Indianapolis car championship also ran.

William Rucker, joined by Alvin Smith, Robert Brokenburr, and Harry Donnington, formed the Colored Racing Association in 1924 as way to help the Black community enter the mainstream of American society. In Indianapolis, racing was the way to achieve that goal. The biggest event on the calendar would be a 100 mile race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds which came to be known as the Gold and Glory sweepstakes.

The First Gold and Glory race ran on August 2, 1924, as part of Emancipation Day festivities. The race drew a about 12,000 fans. Malcolm Hannon won the race driving a Barber-Warnock Ford Special. Wiggins was not allowed to participate because Rucker thought he was too small. Wiggins entered the following year and went on to win the race four times- 1926, 1931, 1932,and 1933.

Wiggins won seven of the nine CSA races in 1926. The schedule included races in Dayton, Detroit, Chicago, South Bend, Langhorne, Pennsylvania, and Keokuk , Iowa.

The 1936 Gold and Glory Sweepstakes was the beginning of the end for the CSA. The race started late and track conditions had deteriorated. A 13 car crash on the second lap resulted in near fatal injuries to Wiggins. He survived but lost his right leg. With Wiggins’ career over, attendance dwindled the rest of the season and the league folded before the 1937 season began.

Joie Ray, Jr. in 1946 became the first black driver to hold a AAA license. It would be another 39 years before Willy T. Ribbs would enter the Indianapolis 500, and another 45 years until Ribbs qualified for the race as the first African American driver in the 500. Ray thought he had backing from Eddi “Rochester” Anderson for an entry in 1952, but Anderson had to shift his prioritites and Ray never got a chance to drive at IMS.

Recognizing the drivers of the Colored Racing Association will not be as easy as transferring records. Statistics seem sketchy and difficult to verify, even for the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes contestants. I have spent several hours online researching the CSA with little success. I do believe these drivers deserve recognition from Indycar and whatever records are available should be included with the other Indycar stats.

Most of my source material came from two books, Brick by Brick, by Patrick Sullivan, the biography of Joie Ray; and For Gold and Glory, by Todd Gould. I recommend watch the PBS documentary, For Gold and Glory as well. It has some great footage of the races at the fairgrounds.