Sunday, April 01, 2007

Carnival: The First Black NASCAR Driver

I was thinking of sitting out this Carnival because I couldn't come up with anything appropriately funny or foolish about my family. That's not say there isn't any funny or foolish about my family . . . just nothing I thought would be interesting or publishable. But Jasia's story about her mother learning to drive reminded me of a couple of driving stories.

My great-uncle Herman Walker was born in 1906 in Taft, San Patricio County, Texas. His parents were Hattie Bryant and Toby Walker. He graduated from high school in Rockport, Texas and then attended Paul Quinn College, which was then located in Waco, Texas. He later moved to Houston where he was the chef at the renowned Ye Olde College Inn during its heyday. Uncle Herman was a member of St Nicholas Catholic Church for sixty-six years. He was a proud and independent man who lived to be ninety-six years old.

For sometime after Uncle Herman turned eighty, various relatives began to suggest that it was time for him to give up driving. It was apparent that his eyesight was not good, and it was difficult to understand how he navigated intersections in particular. On a visit to see Uncle Herman, my father learned Uncle Herman's strategy for dealing with intersections. Upon seeing what he thought might be a stop sign 0r traffic light, he would slow down, and blow his horn loudly. If nobody else blew their horn, Herman would keep on going!

The other story has appeared earlier in this space, but it's perfect for replay for the Carnival.

It's said by historians that Wendell Scott was the first NASCAR driver in 1961. But I have evidence to the contrary. A news story from the San Mateo, Calif., Times, dated August 1, 1955, tells the tale of the true first black NASCAR driver. The story recounts a NASCAR race at Bay Meadows in Northern California. The winner of the race was Tim Flock of Atlanta, then the nation's leading stock car driver. But then the last paragraph of the story says:

Unintentional comedy relief during the grim racing was provided by Elias Bowie of Oakland driving a 1955 Cadillac in his first stock car race. Bowie toured the course as a Sunday driver checking the scenery. He had the largest pit crew, topped by a lanky double-jointed chap in green fatigue uniform. He also had provided a full tank car of Mobiloil gas. In spite of (or because of) these precautions, Bowie completed the race.

[San Mateo Times, Monday, August 1, 1955, p.10].

Elias Bowie was my grandmother's brother. He ran several transportation companies (jitney buses, taxi cabs) in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose. He loved Cadillacs. He always wore a fedora when he drove. I can just see him tooling around the track with his hat on and one arm hanging out the window!

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