Colorless At Indy 500 PART ONE

By Gary Norris Gray BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: May 24, 2011

Charlie Wiggins

Charlie Wiggins

OAKLAND, CA—History will be made as cars whizz by at two hundred and twenty miles an hour around the old brickyard. This will be the 100th year anniversary at the Indianapolis Speedway.

It seems like history is receptive to diversities but it seems the 500 continues to move backwards. During these 100 years in Indiana only eight females, three African American men, and two Japanese men have tried to cross the finish line.

There have been a few South American winners 3 from Brazil, Helo Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, and Emerson Fittipaldi, with one from Columbia the winner is Juan Pablo Montoya.

Let’s take a trip back 80 years with The Negro Speed King, Charlie Wiggins, would not be happy with the current events of the Indy Car Racing fraternity. Wiggins grew up in Evansville, Indiana where the powerful grip of racism and the Ku Klux Klan were prevalent in the 1920’s.

Wiggins was able to recognize the type of car just by the sound of the motor. People were amazed that he could do this with his eyes closed. He ascended from shoeshine boy to chief auto mechanic in a segregated city. White race car drivers would travel across town to visit him at his auto repair shop because they knew he could fix any problem that their car might be experiencing.

Mr. Wiggins built and raced his own car called, “The Wiggins Special”.

Charlie Wiggins registered his car for the Indianapolis 500 and was rejected each year because of the color of his skin. The (AAA) Automobile Association of American yes, that national organization that today gives traveling directions to all Americans, was the governing body and enforced the unwritten segregation rules of 1926.

Then Mr. Wiggins and other Black drivers loved to race and wanted to drive. They formed their own racing association and had competitions in the Midwest. These drivers created their own racing classic called the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes. Wiggins won three of the first six races before his tragic car accident in 1936 that left him disabled.

In 1934 he was the head mechanic for Will Bill Cummings who won the Indianapolis 500. Wiggins was credited for keeping the car in shape. African Americans could not be seen in the pit area, Wiggins would sneak into the Cummings pit camp at night after he finished his day job as a janitor at the racetrack..

Wiggins can now be called the grandfather of African American Indy type drivers.

Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton could be called the modern day Wiggins. He was born in Great Britain, and races Formula One cars. He is the first Black man to enter this field of racing. Hamilton won the World Championship in 2008. Lewis had to endure the wrath of the Spanish racing fans with racist taunts, painted Black faces, and monkey chants. Hamilton has survived the trauma and just win.

Chase Austin is currently a part time driver with the help of veteran Willie T. Ribbs Jr.-owner and crew chief. Austin races on the NASCAR circuit and world truck series. Austin is the first African American male to race in the Busch Series and the first to start The Firestone Indy Lights Championship. This young man has a bright future with his elder mentor guiding the way.

This is a great history but the Brickyard still remains void of African Americans in 2011.


Copyrighted 2011@ Gary Norris Gray- Gray Leopard Prod.