The AARA Hall Of Fame
The AARA Hall of Fame pays tribute to the talents and triumphs of African-Americans in motorsports. In addition, we celebrate those individuals whose actions, words, or efforts are aligned with the spirit of diversity and inclusion in motorsports.
Hailing from Trenton, NJ, Antron Brown is a professional Drag Racer (NHRA) and the sport's first African-American champion. Brown raced in the NHRA's Pro Stock Motorcycle division from 1998 to 2007. Brown won 16 events in the motorcycle division and had a best finish of 2nd in points in 2001 and 2006. In 2008 he switched to Top Fuel dragsters. Brown won the Top Fuel championship in 2012, 2015, and 2016. At the time of creating this article, Antrons has 69 career NHRA wins, putting him 12th all-time.
In 2022, Antron created the AB Motorsports team, which he owns and operates. They made their debut at the start of the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. On August 14, 2022, Brown scored his first win as an NHRA team owner at the NHRA Nationals. He defeated Steve Torrence in the final round to capture his 53rd Top Fuel triumph and 69th overall.
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Colored Speedway Association
The Indianapolis Speedway is the mecca of professional race car driving. However, when Charlie Wiggins and other African-American drivers were barred from competing at the raceway, they took matters into their own hands. In 1924 William Rucker formed the Colored Speedway Association. The highlight of the Colored Speedway Association was the annual Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, a 100-mile race on a 1-mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The first race in August 1924 was won by Malcolm Hannon of Indianapolis, with only three cars surviving to the end. Legendary Boxer Jack Johnson presented a trophy to Hannon.
The 100-mile race began to be referred to as the “Gold and Glory” race after the Chicago Defender’s Frank Young wrote in 1924 that “this auto race will be recognized throughout the length and breadth of the land as the single greatest sports event to be staged annually by colored people. This race drew a crowd of 12,000 and was the largest sporting event held for African Americans up to that point.
The legendary Charles “Charlie” Wiggins won the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes 4 times. Dubbed the “Negro Speed King” by the then predominately white press, Wiggins was the sport’s most revered participant, known for unprecedented prowess behind the wheel and under the hood. His talents ultimately earned him the respect and admiration of drivers, both black and white. He competed annually until an accident ended his racing career. Like so many organizations at the time, the Colored Speedway Association could not survive the economic turmoil that was the Great Depression. On top of that, several of its biggest names were forced out of the sport due to injuries sustained during the circuit’s final racing season. The Colored Speedway Association shut its doors in late 1936, taking the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes legacy along with it.
Kenneth W. Wright was born in 1940 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and was a race car driver and mechanic for, among other teams, Black American Racers, Inc. (BAR), the first African American auto racing team to acquire national sponsorship in the United States.
His love of hot rods and race cars began at age 13, when Leonard W. Miller would visit his community in a 1940 Ford hot rod convertible. Riding in the car, and watching the advanced modifications made to the motor, sparked Wright's interest in becoming a full-time automotive technician after graduating from Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. He took every auto class offered in the school.
After high school, he began his apprenticeship training at Sharpless Auto Body in Devon, Pennsylvania, where he learned all aspects of automotive collision repair.
In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, Wright's skills were extremely rare among African Americans. He was one of only a few to hold jobs in the auto body trade at a mainstream facility in one of the wealthiest regions of America. Citizens in the community, including African Americans, would note Wright's capacity at every pass.
In 1966 Wright joined the School District of Philadelphia, where he taught automotive collision repair to adults. While employed by the district, he obtained a B.S. in education from Temple University in 1979.
In 1969–70, Wright drove a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) 1955 Chevrolet station wagon to dozens of track victories for Miller Brothers Racing. In 1973, Wright joined forces with Miller's Brown & Williamson Tobacco (Viceroy Cigarettes)-sponsored Black American Racers, Inc. (BAR) team that fielded second-generation African American driver Benny Scott in Formula Super Vee (FSV) road racing on circuits.
Ken Wright's broad base of other technical skills, including painting, welding, tuning motors, rebuilding transmissions and rear ends, and complete suspension work, transferred readily to BAR's initiatives. Wright prepared the Lola T-324 and T-620. He became a loyalist of the team and was critical to its extraordinary milestones through the 1970s - a period some call “the last decade of the golden era of American road racing.”
Wright remained on the BAR team after Viceroy's unmatched sponsorship expired in late 1975.
From San Antonio, TX, Elias Bowie is the first African-American to compete in a Nascar race. A page from the August 1, 1955, edition of the San Mateo (CA) Times newspaper, with an article about that weekend’s NASCAR race at Bay Meadows Speedway. The 250-lap Grand National Series race was held on July 31, 1955, on the one-mile San Mateo dirt track. It featured several NASCAR stars of the time, including Lee Petty, Marvin Panch, Buck Baker, Ed Negre, and Tim Flock — the race winner who also won the Grand National title that year. Elias Bowie finished 28th that day in a field of 34 cars, earning prize money worth $90 in front of 15,000 fans, making his first and only NASCAR Cup appearance.
Tommy "Tombo" Bolton
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Tommy “Tombo” Bolton is arguably the most accomplished and influential African-American motorcycle racers of all time. During his career, he has won over 25 championships, and during a time it was unheard of, he secured major sponsorships. Other great African-American motorcycle drag racers are on record, stating Tombo has inspired them to get into racing. His most notable accomplishment came in 1990 when he became the first African-American drag bike racer to pass the 200 mph mark with a 7.18 at 205 mph. He was also the first African-American motorcycle racer to run a 7-second 1/4 mile.
Tombo started racing at age 19, and by the mid-eighties, he began to receive notoriety as the first African-American to go to the forefront of the sport. In 1988 Bolton became the first to win top-ten plates in all of the major DRAGBIKE USA categories – Pro Street, Pro Stock, Pro Comp, and Top Fuel (competing on a Funny Bike).
Tombo entered the competitive world of NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racing in the early nineties. He became the category’s first African-American racer to receive a major sponsorship when Torco backed him.
By the mid-nineties, the motorcycle drag racing scene flourished on the East Coast. So Tombo moved to Oklahoma City to be more centrally located. That is when Tombo decided it was time to focus on tuning the bike, and as a tuner, he won 11 championships.
Today Tombo owns and operates Tombo Racing, where he builds sport bikes, drag bikes, and baggers.
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Jesse went from competing at the top level of Division-1A college football to rising the military ranks as a Lieutenant Commander. He is now the only current driver in all of NASCAR at the national level that actively serves his country as a US Military member.
While playing football for the Naval Academy, Iwuji first expressed interest in motorsports when the Midshipmen visited the Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina, before the 2006 Meineke Car Care Bowl, during which the players rode around the track. Then, during his senior year, he started drag racing driving a Chrysler 300. After his graduation, he raced a Dodge Challenger, and Four years later, he participated in the Mojave Mile speed trial; for the event, he upgraded his Challenger's engine to 1,100 horse power and ran at a speed of 200.9 miles per hour, becoming the fifth modern Mopar driver to accomplish the feat at the Mojave Mile.
In 2014 Iwuji started competing part-time in NASCAR, and in 2016 Iwuji started competing full-time in the K&N Pro Series West. In August 2021, Iwuji announced that he was partnering with Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith to start an Xfinity Series team for the 2022 season, Jesse Iwuji Motorsports.
It has been vital for Iwuji, who is currently serving in our country's reserve fighting force, to honor his country while pursuing excellence in the business world as a business owner and on the track as a driver. Jesse is also a big supporter of NASCAR diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today he is one of two African Americans competing at NASCAR's national level of racing. He was honored by NASCAR for two years in a row – the Diverse Driver of the Year Award. Jesse Iwuji continues to take us all along for a memorable ride showing those who dare to dream that life truly rewards those who stay strong enough, long enough.
Rufus "Brooklyn Heavy" Boyd
Rufus Boyd, aka Brooklyn Heavy, was a legend in the 1970s drag racing scene. He dominated the streets of the Northeast and eventually graduated to continue his dominance on the Pro Stock level. His Plymouth Dusters were a favorite among Pro Stock's golden-era fans.
He would drive or hire the country's best drivers to pilot his fleet of clean, fast "Brooklyn Heavy" American muscle cars. He toured with the United Soul Racing Team and was a charter member of the Black American Racers Association (BARA).
Born in Virginia Beach, VA, athleticism allowed Brehanna to play point guard at Norfolk State University. However, at this point in her life, she paid no attention to NASCAR on any level. That was until recruiters from NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program showed up on her college campus in 2016 and introduced her to the sport. Her skills on the court were an easy fit for the fast-paced needs of a NASCAR pit crew.
In 2019 Brehanna Daniels made history and became the first African-American female tire changer to pit in the Daytona 500. She is the 2nd African American woman to pit for Nascar (Melanie Thomas 2006).
Charles "Charlie" Wiggins
Charles "Charlie" Wiggins was a Race car driver and mechanic from Evansville, Indiana, who won the prestigious annual Gold and Glory Sweepstakes race four times between 1926 and 1935. As an African-American competing in the Midwest during the inter-war years, he was barred from participating in white-only events – including the Indianapolis 500 – but was a leading light in the parallel Colored Speedway Association (CSA) Gold and Glory sweepstakes.
The Gold and Glory Sweepstakes was a 100 miles dirt track race that was highly competitive. It was held on a 1 mile oval at the Indiana State Fairground and has been described as a "brutal" event. A victory in this race is considered equivalent to a victory in the Indianapolis 500, in which Wiggins and other black race drivers were not allowed to compete.
In 1926 Charlie Wiggins won the Gold and Glory race by two full laps. In addition, he took victory in no fewer than seven of the season's other nine CSA events.
Charlie's dominance during this period was such that the popular media dubbed him the Negro Speed King. Unfortunately, his career ended when he was caught up in a severe accident at the 1936 Gold and Glory event, resulting in his right leg and eye loss.
Bari Musawwir attended his first Monster Jam event as a 6-year-old growing up in Cleveland. He and his mother traveled to the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan for the event, where the 12,000-pound trucks and their 66-inch tires completely mesmerized Bari.
In 2011, Bari Musawwir became the first African American driver in Monster Jam and won rookie of the year honors. In 2011, he began his first season by driving El Toro Loco. In 2012, Bari would be put into the Spider-Man truck, which he would drive until 2014. In 2015, Bari was put into the Zombie monster truck.
Dewey Gatson / Rajo Jack / Jack DeSoto
Dewey Gatson, also known as Rajo Jack and Jack DeSoto, is one of America's first African American racers. He won races up and down the United States West Coast in stock cars, midgets, and motorcycles.
In 1920 he began racing at fairgrounds across the country, having moderate success.
Gatson would soup up all of his Model T Fords cars with Rajo cylinder heads. In the early 1930s, Rajo owner Joe Jagersberger named Gatson/Jack DeSoto his Los Angeles dealer and salesman. The name "Rajo Jack" was born. From 1923 – 1954 he would dominate the "Outlaw Circuits." These were the only races Rajo could compete in. He was barred from racing in sanctioned American Automobile Association (AAA) events, including the Indy 500 because he was black. He often claimed to be a Portuguese man named Jack DeSoto to be able to race in other circuits. Other times he claimed that he was a Native American to get around the color barrier.
However, fans' acceptance had limits. His wife Ruth had to be with him every time he won because she would do the trophy girl's job: give him the trophy and a kiss. He once let the other driver win in a two-lap match race because he knew he could not kiss the white trophy girl.
Peggy Hails from San Antonio, TX, and her father was closely involved with bikes and bike racing. Hence, she began riding herself at the age of seven.
In 2001, Peggy Llewellyn raced six pro events. Then, without the sponsorship finance to continue, she left the sport and trained as a Real estate agent, but she never took her eyes off the track. It took five years to secure another sponsor and get back on track.
In 2007, Peggy Llewellyn became the first woman of color to win a professional motorsports event. With her Prostock Motorcycle, she crossed the finishing line in the finals to win the NHRA POWERade event in Dallas, TX. In 2010, Peggy made history again by becoming the first woman of color to own, operate and race for an NHRA professional drag racing team, 2 Wheel Woman Racing.
Sage Thomas aka Donkmaster
As a youth, DonkMaster was introduced to cars & racing by his Uncle Buggy. As the years passed, he studied cars and the sport of drag racing, and at the age of 16, he built his first Donk. Then, he was introduced to the Donk racing culture in Florida through a DVD. Watching racers like Murff Dog make pretty Donks fast ignited respect and a challenge. So he decided to give his hometown of South Carolina the fastest Donk in the world.
Since that moment, Sage has been traveling city to city and state to state, serving "Gapsauce" to his competition. He has his self-titled TV show on the VICE & Motortrend Networks. In addition, he created the National Donk Racing Association (NDRA), the world's first sanctioning body for big rim racing.
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James "Bubba" Stewart
Bubba Stewart is one of the most dominant Motocross riders in history who competed in the AMA Motocross and the AMA Supercross. Through his years of racing, he earned the nickname "The Fastest Man on The Planet" due to his talent, speed, athleticism, and innovation.
In 2008 Stewart won every race and every moto of the AMA Motocross season. Stewart is second in all-time 450 Supercross wins (50) and all-time in AMA outdoor national wins (48). He has amassed over 98 wins in his pro racing career. Bubba also developed the "Bubba Scrub," or just "scrub," which became a fundamental skill needed to compete in Professional Motocross. In addition, he brought in endorsement deals paying him over $10M a year throughout his career. He has the record for the best rookie season, having won 10/12 Motocross races in 2002.
Stewart won the Motocross of Nations twice and the World Supercross title three times. Additionally, he won four AMA Supercross Champion titles and three AMA Motocross Champion titles. He won the Red Bull Straight Rhythm in both 2014 and 2015.
Rickey Gadson started riding motorcycles at nine years old, even though he could not touch the ground while seated. Soon after, Gadson began drag racing in the dirt with a heavily modified, lowered motorcycle that allowed him to touch the ground. Then, at age 15, he entered the motorcycle street racing scene in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Through the years, Rickey Gadson's success made him the most recognizable face in motorcycle drag racing. He is an AMA 11x World Champion and the most winningest motorcycle drag racer in history. Gadson became the sport's first full-time factory-sponsored rider in 1998 when he signed with Kawasaki. In 2007 he became the host of the "Caffeine and Octane" tv show.
William Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr.
William Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. is an American professional stock car racing driver. Since he was 9, he has been competing in various racing series. In 2010, Wallace began competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, a regional and developmental series. In addition, Wallace drove for Rev Racing as part of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program; He was the first African American to win the Rookie of the Year award in a NASCAR series.
In 2012, Wallace made his national series debut in NASCAR's Xfinity Series, finishing his first event in 9th place.
On September 21, 2020, NBA Legend Michael Jordan announced he and NASCAR veteran Denny Hamlin had created a NASCAR team named 23XI Racing, with Wallace serving as the first driver in the No. 23 car. Then, on October 4, 2021, Wallace earned his first career Cup win at Talladega after the race was shortened due to rain. Wallace is the first Black driver to win a Cup Series race since Wendell Scott in 1963.
On September 11, 2022, Bubba Wallace wins his second career cup series win at Kansas Speedway. He is the only African-American driver to accomplish this feat.
Wallace has been the only full-time African-American driver in NASCAR's three national series (Cup, Xfinity, and Truck) each year he has competed in them. In addition, he is the only African-American driver to win more than once in any of these series, making him one of the most successful African American drivers in the history of NASCAR.
In addition, in June 2020, Wallace became known for his activism on racial justice in response to the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, which led to NASCAR strengthening their actions and efforts in this area, highlighted by their banning the display of the Confederate flag at their tracks.
His path to becoming a racing legend was very different than most professional drivers. In 1984, Bill Lester started working at Hewett-Packard as a computer scientist. While working for H.P., Bill won the SCCA Series Northern California Region Rookie of the Year title and the SCCA GT-3 Regional Road Racing Championship in 1985 and 1986, respectively. Throughout his 15-year career at Hewett-Packard, he would compete in many sports car series in the United States.
Finally, at the age of 40, and after many years with H-P, Bill decided to quit his job and concentrate on his professional racing career full-time. In 1999, he became the first African-American to run a Nascar Busch Series race. In 2006 raced in his first Nextel Cup race, becoming the first African-American since 1986 to make a cup race and, at the time, the 6th in the series history. In addition to his accomplishments with Nascar and racing, he was the first African-American to win a Grand-Am race and is the first African-American driver to appear on a cereal box (Honey Nut Cheerios in 2003)
Andrew "Big Willie" Robinson
Andrew “Big Willie” Robinson III was a street racing icon who bridged the gap between the people, A-listers, and lawmakers in the mid-60s, bringing peace to a racially torn Los Angeles. After the Watts riots in 1965, the city was on the edge of implosion. With rival gangs and police waring in the streets, Big Willie used the passion for cars and street racing to bring people together. He created the National and International Brotherhood of Street Racers that ran a drag strip on Terminal Island in L.A.
Leonard W. Miller
Leonard Miller is a pioneer in motorsports & creator of the Black American Racers Association (BARA). Miller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in its suburbs. His lifelong love of automobiles began at age five in 1939.
As Miller grew into his teens and early 20s, he was mentored by Mel Leighton and Sumner “Red” Oliver, two black racing pioneers of the 1920s-1940s. These relationships, and friendships with Wendell Scott and Malcolm Durham, helped propel Miller and African American driver Benny Scott to many achievements racing under the Black American Racers, Inc. (BAR) and Vanguard Racing, Inc. banners in the 1970s.
In 1972, Leonard Millers Vanguard Racing team became the first black-owned team to enter a car in the Indianapolis 500, with John Mahler as the driver. Vanguard’s concept was to employ Mahler as a development coach to help prepare Benny Scott for the Indianapolis 500 in subsequent years.
Miller was also the founder, in 1972, of the Black American Racers Association (BARA). At its height, BARA boasted 5,000 members from 20 states. Wendell Scott was the first honorary chairman. Ron Hines, a University of Pennsylvania-trained mechanical engineer, served as secretary and race team mechanic.
Willy T Ribbs
Willy T. Ribbs is the first African-American man to race in the Indianapolis 500 (tested in 1985, raced in 1991 and 1993). Ribbs competed in many auto racing forms, including the Trans-Am Series, IndyCar, Champ Car, IMSA, and the NASCAR Cup Series and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
Among Ribbs' career highlights are winning the pole for the Formula Atlantic race at the 1982 Long Beach Grand Prix, IMSA GTO Driver of the Year 1987-88, and Trans Am Series Driver of the Year 1983. Ribbs won 17 Trans Am and 10 IMSA GTO races.
in 2020 Willy T Ribbs returned to the divers seat in the SRX racing series.
George Mack started his racing career in Go-Karting with his Father in his home state of California. His success in racing allowed him to move up the ranks until he found himself racing in Europe. Then, with the creation of the Indy Racing League, George Mack secured a ride on the IndyCar Series with an underfunded team. He competed in the 2002 season, running the oval-only series.
In 2002, George Mack became the second African-American (after Willy T. Ribbs) to drive in the Indianapolis 500; he finished 17th in that race. He raced the rest IRL season for 310 Racing and finished 16th in series points with a best finish of 13th.
On Feb. 26, 1956, Charlie Scott became the third African-American to compete in a top-tier NASCAR event. He would only race once in what was then known as the Grand National Series. Scott qualified his Chrysler 300 in 14th (out of a 76-car field) and finished the race at the Daytona Beach-Road Course in 19th place. Prize money: $75.
Ron Hines was raised in New Rochelle, New York. His interest in automobiles began as a teenager. At age 14, he bought a partially finished 1948 Plymouth coupe with a chopped top.
At Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he roomed with John Cox, a car enthusiast from Terre Haute, Indiana. Hines's love of cars was solidified when Cox showed him a Rod & Custom magazine article featuring a 1934 Ford five-window coupe.
In 1963, Hines graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia with a degree in mechanical engineering. In his senior year, he met Ennis Dawson, a local drag racer who became a lifelong friend. Attending local drag races with Dawson rekindled Hines's passion for cars. As a result, he bought a 1953 Studebaker coupe and installed a 364-cubic-inch Buick motor and a four-speed transmission. After engaging in several dangerous street races, Hines entered his car in sanctioned National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) meets at the Strato Rods Dragway on the McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, New Jersey.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Hines was hired by General Motors as a quality control engineer at the manufacturer's Trenton, New Jersey facility.
In 1972 Hines met Leonard W. Miller, whose vision was to organize the black racing community into a national association. Hines, Miller, Eugene Gadson, and Charlie Singleton founded the Black American Racers Association (BARA). Hines was BARA's secretary for the five years of its existence, responsible for publishing its monthly newsletter. In 1974, Hines wrote half of the articles in the '74 Black Racers Yearbook. The annual covered pre-World War II black racing history, as well as practical articles for black racers on how to obtain sponsorship. Several Fortune 500 companies placed advertisements in the yearbook.
In 1973, Hines became a crew member of Miller's road racing team, with Benny Scott as driver of a redesigned Tui Formula Super Vee (FSV). The team was sponsored by Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (Viceroy Cigarettes). Hines was an engineer for two other BAR drivers in the 1970s - Randy Bethea and Tommy Thompson in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) - and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) road racing entries. The Lola chassis Hines tuned and set up for the team were the T-324 and T-620. Hines traveled to road circuits such as Lime Rock Park, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen International, Mid-Ohio, and Road America. During this period, Hines appeared on several television and radio shows on the East Coast with Leonard W. Miller and Benny Scott.
Malcolm Durham is often called drag racing’s first black superstar. He’s given credit for breaking the “color barrier” in big-time drag racing and has been described by many as the sport’s equivalent to Jackie Robinson.
Raised on a family farm in Goldsboro, N.C, Durham first started racing in the 1950s in his 56′ Chevy, and in 1962 he moved to Washington D.C. to take automotive classes at a trade school and expand his knowledge in the automotive industry. He went on to work for Hicks Chevrolet as a mechanic role and car salesman, all while racing on the weekends where he won 90% of his races. Durham drove his 1963 Chevy Impala, and this was when the “Strip Blazer” car legacy began. Durham traveled around the country and matched raced legends like Don Nicholson, the Dick Landys, and the Ramchargers. Even though he had a quiet demeanor in private, Durham used hip language and a bigger than life persona to bring “cool” to “The Muscle Car Wars” of the 1960s. He is named #48 of the NHRA’s top 50 drivers of all time.
Cheryl "The Lady" Linn Glass
Cheryl Linn Glass was born in Mountain View, California, on December 24, 1961. At 9, she started her own business, making high-end ceramic dolls and selling them to local businesses such as Frederick & Nelson. The dolls, which took about three months to complete, sold for $150–$300 each. At around the same time, she became interested in racing after reading a newspaper article about local children driving quarter-midget race cars. She was able to buy equipment with her earnings and, with her father's support, began racing in the midget circuit.
In her first year of competition, she was the first girl ever to be named Rookie of the Year. She was state and regional champion for five consecutive years and was one of the top ten drivers nationally. She later switched to racing the heavier, faster, half-midgets.
At 18, she dropped out of college, bought her first sprint car, and began racing at Skagit Speedway in Mount Vernon, Washington, where she was the first woman sprint car driver. That year the Northwest Sprint Car Association named her Rookie of the Year. After winning the season championship race at Skagit Speedway, she competed in more than 100 professional races, making her the first African-American female professional race car driver. As a result, she was nicknamed "The Lady." Her dream was to race in the Indianapolis 500 and eventually become a Formula One driver. Unfortunately, her career was cut short due to injuries or lack of funds. Her last race, at the Phoenix International Raceway in April 1991, ended in a crash.
In 1991, she survived a rape in her home during a burglary. The intruders also defaced her wall with a swastika. Authorities dismissed her rape report, claiming there was not enough evidence to bring charges. On July 15, 1997, she committed suicide by jumping from the Aurora Bridge in Washington.
In 2006, Melanie Thomas became the first African American woman to be a pit crew member in Nascar. She was a member of the pit crew of NASCAR driver Morgan Shepard. After her brief stint with Shepard, she joined CJM Motorsports, another NASCAR team headed by driver Mike Skinner. She was the right-rear tire changer. In all, she has worked on four teams.
Thomas was the first woman ever to “go over the wall” (working on a car during a racing pit stop) in a Nascar Nextel Cup event. She was also the first female to do pit work in a Nextel Cup points event.
Joseph Reynolds Ray, Jr. also known as “Joie Ray,” is one of the nation’s pioneer race car drivers. His racing career spanned 17 seasons (1947-1963) as a Sprint, Midget, and Stock car driver in several states, mainly in the Midwest.
In 1946, Joie and his wife Susie visited Winchester Speedway in Indiana to see a AAA Sprint car race. That experience sparked his interest in auto racing. Joie returned to Louisville and began working as a crew member for race car owner Carl Ott. While reading the classifieds in a racing paper, Joie found a Dodge four-cylinder Sprint car for sale for $450.00. He decided to take a chance and play the local numbers game, betting a single dollar on number 450. He won $500 on the number and used his prize money to buy his first race car in 1946, the #7 Joe’s Special. On Easter Sunday, April 6, 1947, in Mitchell, IN, Joie Ray made history by becoming the first African American driver to participate with white drivers in a sanctioned Sprint car race with the Midwest Dirt Track Racing Association (MDTRA), just days before Jackie Robinson’s debut in major league baseball. Shortly after that, Joie competed with the Central States Racing Association (CSRA) and the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA).
He was the first African American to race with them as well. Although Joie successfully ran at the fairs in the Midwest, like many other race drivers, he had a strong desire to run in the Indianapolis 500. To do that, a driver had to be a member of the American Automobile Association (AAA), the major league organization of its time. According to records of noted racing historian Crocky Wright, Joie drove his first AAA race on June 26, 1949, in a Sprint car at Salem Speedway, IN. Joie qualified 13th in a car labeled RW; timed in at 24.158 seconds on the 1/2 mile high-banked oval, 13th out of 25 cars; finished 5th in the 3rd heat, 2nd in the Consolation race, and 8th in the Feature. Joie nearly had an Indy Car to race, but sponsorship deals fell through. Regardless, he was the first African American licensed with AAA’s successor, the United States Auto Club (USAC).
Joie continued to race until 1963, accumulating wins in often inferior equipment and accumulating a multitude of top-5 and top-10 finishes with high-caliber drivers such as Bill Cantrell, Cliff Griffith, and Chick Smith.
Ronald Lyles is considered one of the best black Pro Stock Mopar racers in history. A member of the world-famous “Mutt Brothers”, hailing from Brooklyn, NYC, he fortified his reputation winning races all over the Northeastern United States.
In 1971 Ronald and the Mutt Brothers raced professionally as a team on the NHRA Pro Stock circuit. He raced heavily on the Atlantic seaboard, especially at New York National, Cecil County, Capitol, and the various Pennsylvania and New Jersey tracks. In 1973, Lyles stunned the world with the second eight-second Pro Stock run in history, an 8.89 at New York National on March 24 in a Ron Butler-built ’73 Dodge. He would have had the first eight, except that another racer ran an 8.93 a day earlier at Cecil County. The Mutt Brothers team, with Ronald Lyles as the driver, became the first and only African Americans to join the United States Racing Team, which was considered the elite or the top 16 professional stock teams in the country.
Introduced to motorsports by his father, J.R Todd has been racing dragsters since he was 10 years old. He spent many years working various motorsports jobs trying to secure sponsorships and a seat in a Top Fuel Dragster. All is perseverance finally paid off. In 2006 J.R. Todd became the first African American to win an NHRA Top Fuel Race. He finished the season with multiple wins and earned NHRA Rookie of the Year Honors.
Reggie Showers is an inspiration to us all. At the age of 14, he lost both of his legs due to an electrical accident. Determined not to let his disability get in the way of his dreams, Showers followed his passion and embarked on a motorcycle drag racing career.
In 1989 he began his professional career competing in the IDBA. Showers captured both the season championship and rookie of the year award. His dream was to compete in the NHRA, and in 1995 his dream came true. He raced under Harry Lartigue for half the 1995 season until midway thru the 1996 season. Shortly after that, Showers decided to start his own race team. In 1997 Prosthetic Design Inc., a major manufacturer of components for the disabled, recognized Showers to be a valuable marketing associate, and the partnership was formed.
Nearly 20 years after his motorcycle career began, Showers’ fulfilled the unimaginable on September 7th, 2003, by capturing his first national event victory at NHRA’s most illustrious and prestigious race, the Indianapolis U.S. Nationals.
Stone, Woods & Cook Race Team
Tim Woods & Fred Stone were the first black owners of a race team to win a national title for any sanctioning body & Doug Cook drove their various versions of the “Swindler” Willy’s.
The Stone, Woods, and Cook (SWC) racing team was the world’s first racially integrated team consisting of black owners (Woods & Stone) and a white driver (Cook). This took place during a time when Woods & Stone weren’t allowed to enter the track and had to watch their car run from the stands. SWC was also part of the group to start match racing competitions called “Gasser Wars” in the 1960s. They would travel across the nation and grudge race, other gasser teams. Their fast and loud grudge racing environment would pack drags strips across the nation.
Their SWC Gassers are some of the most legendary cars in drag racing history. In 1982 Hot Rod Magazine voted the SWC Gasser the most famous drag car of all time. In 2008 the NHRA voted and awarded them the same honor. The SWC Gassers have been memorialized as model cars & Hot Wheel cars.
Wendell Scott was one of the first African-American drivers in NASCAR and the first African-American to win a race in the Grand National Series, NASCAR’s highest level. Scott began his racing career in local circuits. He attained his NASCAR license in around 1953, making him the first African-American ever to license with NASCAR. He debuted in the Grand National Series on March 4, 1961, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. On December 1, 1963, he won a Grand National Series race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, becoming the first black driver to win a race at NASCAR’s premier level.
Nitro Nellie Goins
On April 11, 1971, at Great Lakes Dragway in Union Grove, Wisconsin, Nitro Nellie Goins made history by becoming the first African-American woman to drive a Nitro Funny Car.
Her career spanned from 1969 to thru the early 70’s. Ironically, it was never her intention or passion to get into racing. Her husband Otis was extremely passionate about racing. In the late 60’s they saved their money purchased a 1968 Barracuda Otis called “The Conqueror.” Due to health reasons, Otis couldn’t fulfill his passion and drive the car, so Nellie offered to drive it. “Drag racing was not my first passion, but I did it for my husband and my family,” she admits. ….. “This was the family dream.” Nellie would compete in various race events at the famed U.S. 30 Drag Strip near Gary, Indiana, sharpening her skills with each race. Eventually, the 68′ Barracuda was traded in for a 1970 Challenger. Unfortunately, during an event at Bristol Dragway in the early 70’s, the new car was totaled on one of its first runs. However, they didn’t let that stop their dreams.
The goal was the AA/FC ranks of supercharged nitro, so in early 1970, they commissioned chassis builder Lee Austin to build them a new car, which had a Fiberglass Ltd. ’71 Mach 1 Mustang body. The car debuted Aug. 29, 1971, at U.S. 30 in injected nitro trim and later was converted to a full-blown nitro burner. The car could run in the low sevens at speeds approaching 215 mph. The dream ride came to an end one weekend a few years later at Bristol Dragway. The right front tire got off the track, damaging both the chassis and the body. Although Otis ordered a new Monza shell for the car, his health had begun to decline as a result of his diabetes. The team could no longer afford to race, so the car was parked and sat in their garage for almost three decades.
Edward T. Welburn
Edward T. Welburn is an automobile designer from the suburbs of Philadelphia, and from 2003 - to 2016, he was the Vice President of Global Design for General Motors. To date, Welburn remains the highest-ranking African-American in the global automotive industry. He has overseen the development of recent GM products, such as the Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac Escalade, and Chevrolet Camaro. In addition, Welburn has overseen groundbreaking concepts such as the Oldsmobile Aerotech, Cadillac Ciel, and Buick Avista.
His designs have set records for speed on racetracks and sales in the marketplace. Among many other notable vehicles, he designed multiple pace cars for the Indianapolis 500. In addition, he led the design of the presidential limo, commonly known as 'The Beast,' for both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Michael Phillips made his mark in drag racing in 1995 by becoming the first African American to win an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle race. Michael is one of the few in a class of racers who can ride in any class and excel. Michael also earned eight top ten honors in Top Gas, SuperSport, Streetbike Shootout, and Pro Mod in a carrer spanning over 20 years.
Ralph Gilles is a Canadian-American automobile designer and executive. Born in New York City to Haitian immigrants, Gilles was raised in Montreal, Quebec.
Gilles was drawing concept vehicles at the age of eight. When he was fourteen years old, his aunt Gisele Mouscardy sent one of his sketches to then Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca. A reply came from K. Neil Walling, Chrysler's design chief at the time, suggesting he attend one of three design schools.
In 1992, he joined Chrysler. Gilles styled the North American Car of the Year-winning 2005 Chrysler 300. Gilles also led the design team that created the 2014 SRT Viper. Gilles was the President and CEO of Chrysler's SRT brand and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler before being promoted to Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in April 2015. Following FCA's merger into the Stellantis group in 2021, he became chief design officer for the newly merged company.
Don "The Snake" Prudhomme
Don Prudhomme, nicknamed "The Snake," is an American drag racer.
In 1962, Prudhomme was a partner in the Greer-Black-Prudhomme fuel digger, which earned the best win record in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) history, before switching to Funny Car. His skills would earn him four NHRA Funny Car championships in his 35-year career. Prudhomme earned the nickname "The Snake" because one of the crew guys commented that when he left the starting line, he had a quick reaction, like when a snake strikes. He was the first Funny Car driver to exceed 250 mph.
Prudhomme was known for his yellow 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, in which he matched Tom McEwen in his red 1970 Plymouth Duster, named Mongoose. Both drivers gained wider public attention from Mattel's "Hot Wheels" toy versions of the cars, released in 1970. Hot Wheels celebrated their 35th anniversary in 2005 with a two-day event.
He retired in 1994 to manage his racing team. With driver Larry Dixon, Prudhomme's team won the Top Fuel championship in 2002 and 2003.
Regarding race, as a youth, Prudhomme was not sure he was black. He stated, "It would have been nice to know I was Black when I was a kid." He always knew from his features that he was likely of mixed race, especially given his family's Louisiana Creole background. However, because his parents would not tell him — to protect him in the racially-charged 1950s or out of ignorance or pride — he had a good idea. However, even when asked by Black fans in the 1970s whether he was "a brother," he would respond with "I'm everyone's brother."
Benny Scott was a second-generation African American race car driver, a rarity in the motor racing industry. Scott's father, Bill "Bullet" Scott, inspired his son racing midgets in Southern California in the 1930s.
In 1968, Scott quickly recognized the enormous sums of money it took to race cars, so he taught psychology at Los Angeles Harbor College while competing in foreign stock car events in Southern California.
In 1971, Leonard Miller (BARA) organized Vanguard Racing, Inc. to field Benny Scott in Formula A to prepare him over five years for the Indianapolis 500. Scott drove the Vanguard Formula A in a McLaren M10-A, powered with a 500-horsepower Chevrolet V-8, in the L & M Continental 5000 Championship and SCCA events. Drivers came from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, to compete in Formula A. Scott won the CSCC-SCCA Southern Pacific Division Championship in 1972 with the McLaren M10-A.
Scott was featured in Champion Spark Plug's first national print advertising featuring an African American driver in a campaign that ran in several national magazines titled "Fast Road to Indianapolis." The ad showed Scott standing beside a Vanguard McLaren M10-A.
On May 4, 1975, at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, Benny Scott achieved pole position at 100.882 mph. He was the first driver ever to top 100 mph in a Formula Super Vee at Laguna Seca.
In 1976, Benny Scott was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame.
Eugene Coard is a retired drag racer who is an owner and crew chief of Mutt Brother’s Racing Team. The Mutt Brothers Racing Team (Eugene Coard, Ronald Lyles, John Lyles, Bennie Dunham, and Jesse Johnson) hailed from Brooklyn, New York. While they started their reputation in the Northeast United States streets, they were widely regarded as the greatest African-American Pro Stock Team to race professionally.
The Mutt Brothers competed in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), International Hot Rod Association (IHRA), and the United States Racing Team. Eugene was primarily the crew chief and is regarded by many as the African-American Godfather of New York City Street Racing. Eugene and the Mutt Brothers were the first and only African Americans to be members of the elite United States Racing team in 1972. This team consisted of the 16 fastest Pro Stock cars in the United States.
Hardy Allen (1932 - 2017) was an African American pioneer as an Indy Car Crew Member. A native of Los Angeles, Allen worked for two of the sport’s icons as a mechanic, fueler, and parts man in the 1960s and early 1970s for Dan Gurney’s All American Racers before moving to A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
Allen’s presence on pit lane at the Indianapolis 500, and other stops on the championship trail, came at a time in the sport when men and women of color were rarely welcome.
His father, Thomas Allen, was an aviation mechanic and an owner of an aviation school. He made history in 1932 by becoming the first black man to fly across the country – from Los Angeles to New York – in a bi-plane. He was also a test pilot for the Tuskeegee Airmen. His father inspired Hardy to make and race soap box derby cars which eventually led him into motorsports.
Attending Mt. San Antonio College, Allen studied jet propulsion and commercial art before enlisting in the Army. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, Allen became a demolitions specialist. After the Army, Allen worked as a mechanic and also raced motorcycles.
Hardy’s career in the automotive and racing world started when he answered a want ad for All American Racers, Dan Gurney’s race team and fabrication business. He worked for the phone company then and thought it would be interesting to see the place. To his surprise, a letter arrived two weeks later saying he had been selected to learn fabrication and welding.