We all lament the racing history that has been lost but it is really not lost - just deeply buried. It can be dug out and this the tale of Bob Lawrence of Wichita, Kansas who has unearthed long hidden information on racing in the South Central Kansas town of Winfield. Like so many researchers, Lawrence started with the information in Allan E. Brown's wonderful History of America's Speedways, Past & Present:
Winfield Fairgrounds - Winfield/ located at the Cowley County Fairground; 1/2-mile dirt oval (7/14/35) (7/27/35) (May 1956) (1967-1971); Joie Chitwood started his race car driving career here in 1935.
It is impossible for Allan Brown to thoroughly research every racetrack in the U.S., but in Winfield, Bob Lawrence has done it for Allan - and for us. Here's a bit of what he found:
Lawrence has always had an interest in history and his specialty is genealogy with half a dozen books to his credit on this subject. His other interest is racing. He drove stock cars at Winfield and other Kansas tracks for 10 or so years. He'll admit he seemed to have as much talent for crashing as for winning. About a year ago he combined his two interests and started researching the auto racing history of Winfield, Kansas.
Thanks to his genealogy research background, Lawrence had some tools to work with. These not only were the microfilms from the Winfield Courier, but also the local phone book. The ability to search using his computer and his persistence in following one lead to another until he struck pay dirt worked for him.
Auto racing in Winfield began, not in 1935, but in 1912 with a race on July 4th of that year. There were probably only a half-dozen entries, but the crowd of 4000 was happy as W. W. Brown (later better known as a racing mechanic and as "Cockeyed Brown") won the first heat and Glenn Breed in a Buick won the 20-lap main and $300. Breed was back in Winfield in 1913 and again a winner in his Buick. The next races were held in 1915 as racing legend Sig Haugdahl was the winner in a Mercer. This was not an International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) race. No information is available on the sanctioning body for any of Winfield's big car races - these were not only outlaw races but "outlaw outlaw."
Racing resumed in 1927 and until 1935 one or two races per year held at Winfield. The races attracted fields of 10 to 15 cars, and while most of the drivers were locals, some very famous names put in their time in the dust of Winfield. Drivers like Rea Bray, Tex West, Pat Cunningham, Waldo Barnett, Joie Chitwood, Lou Durant, Cotton Grable, Murray Earl, Posey Reeves, Bill Morris (aka Ben Musick), and future Indy driver George Barringer. With the feature races paying somewhere around $300 to win, Winfield would have been ideal for Johnny Gerber who was scheduled to be there in 1927, but these races were rained out. Leonard Kerbs brought his fast No. K-1 to several Winfield events but failed to take home the big money.
The details of Lawrence's remarkable research cover almost all of the races from 1915 to 1935. He has complete entry lists, time trial results, and the finishing order in heat and feature events. In many cases car numbers are given as well as car owners. Lawrence also discovered that Joie Chitwood started racing in 1934 at Winfield, not 1935. All this was in the microfilm files of the Winfield Courier. He followed up with phone calls, letters and email to chase down the families of long ago Winfield competitors. In a few cases he hit the jackpot and was able to find photos of the cars and drivers. At this writing, he is on the trail of a fascinating chunk of racing history. One of the cars entered in the October 9, 1928 was, according to the Winfield Courier, "The fast Superior Special powered with a Hispana Italian airplane motor..." I'm sure many readers will decipher this as he and I did, to be a Hisso! Is this a whole Hispano-Suiza V8 or a half of this engine that was relatively common a few years later? Lawrence thinks he has found the son of W. A. Sparling who owned the car and drove it at Winfield in 1928. Here's hoping Lawrence is a winner on this one and finds more information and photos.
Most of the sources of information that Bob Lawrence used are available to all with access to newspaper microfilms in cities and towns that had racing long ago. Name a town and you'll find the information is there at the local library newspaper microfilm files. It can be fun, it's easy, rewarding, and admittedly, a bit hard on the eyes.
Bob Lawrence has also documented "recent" stock car racing at Winfield. This runs from 1950 to 1971 and is covered in the same fascinating detail as the earlier races. Those of you who have entered the wonderful (?) world of computers can check all of this out on Lawrence's web site at: http://winfield.50megs.com/Cowley/start.htm
Bob Lawrence with his own '56 Chevy stock car that he raced at “81” Speedway in Wichita in 1970. In 1971 he was severely injured at “81” Speedway when the throttle stuck and he slammed into a dirt bank at 80 m.p.h. He was lucky to have survived. Mike Cornelison photo from the Bob Lawrence collection