Louis Julius “Lew” Irwin

1904 – 1987

 

 

            Lew Irwin was born on March 23, 1904 at Altamont, Kansas.  He was a son of Elza Armstrong Irwin (1856-1917) and his wife, Rose Marcia (Shrigley) Irwin (1868-1964).  Lew's family soon moved to Erie, Kansas where his father passed away.  His mother then moved the family on to Iola, Kansas.  Lew was married in 1921 at Iola to Rebecca J. “Betty” Mewhinney (1903-1988) and they had one daughter, Eileen (Irwin) Milatz (1923-2006).

          It is unknown just when or how Lew started driving racing cars but below is his known driving record.  It is almost certainly far from his complete record.  Each of the following racetracks was a half-mile dirt oval:

 

Lew Irwin

Jeff Adams collection

 

This photo was in Lew Irwin’s personal collection.  Was this one of his early cars?  If you recognize this car, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin of Iola, Kansas seated in an early bobtail Fronty racer known as the “Lawhon special” that he drove for the Lawhon brothers, George standing on the left and Ernie on the right, of St. Joseph, Missouri – Irwin family collection

 

This photograph of a Lawhon special bobtail Fronty that was driven by Lew Irwin, was taken in an industrial area of St. Joseph, Missouri – Irwin family collection

 

This photo of the Lawhon special bobtail that Lew Irwin drove was taken at Smithville, Missouri – Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin (a.k.a. “Speed” Irwin) is shown above in the Lawhon special at Ord, Nebraska in August of 1930 - Auble collection from the book “Valley County THUNDER, The History of Racing at Ord, Nebraska” by V. Ray Valasek and Bob Mays

 

Lew Reynolds in a Lawhon special bobtail #X-35 at Smithville, Missouri in 1931.  If you know anything more about Lew Reynolds, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

The X-3 Lawhon special that Lew Irwin drove at Smithville, Missouri in 1931 – Irwin family collection

 

If you recognize either of these cars racing at Smithville, Missouri, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin in a Lawhon special is starting on the pole in this race at Smithville, Missouri.  If you recognize any of the other cars or know the date of this race, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

If you recognize the car or driver in this photo taken at Smithville, Missouri, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin in a Lawhon special in 1931.  If you recognize where this photo was taken, please contact Bob Lawrence – Larry Sullivan photo

 

George Lawhon at left with Lew Irwin at Oskaloosa, Iowa after Lew wrecked the X-3 Lawhon special in the feature race there on September 10, 1931.  Notice the damage to the front end of the car. Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin at left with the B & B special supercharged Fronty owned by C. O. Bennett and Eddie Burbac.  If you know where this photo was taken or who the man is at right, please contact Bob Lawrence – Jeff Adams collection

 

Lew Irwin in the Lawhon special Fronty at Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 30, 1933.  He finished 4th in the first heat and then won the fifth heat that day.  If you recognize the #20 car in the background, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin beside the #5.  If you know who owned this car, where this photo was taken, or who is seated in the car, please contact Bob Lawrence – Jeff Adams collection

 

Lew Irwin in the #5 at Hutchinson, Kansas in 1933.  If you know who owned this car, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin in one of the Lawhon specials – Irwin family collection

 

The tow rig for the Lawhon special. Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin, fourth from left, is pictured here with several of the men who followed the same racing circuit that he did.  If you can identify any of the rest of these men, please contact Bob Lawrence – Irwin family collection

 

Lew Irwin’s wife, Betty, and a friend with one of the Lawhon specials that Irwin drove – Irwin family collection

 

July 4, 1929 - Arkansas City Speedway a.k.a. West Madison Speedway on west edge of Arkansas City, Kansas

Car:  Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

Qualified:  7th in time trials at 35.0 seconds and behind Mack McAnally, Andrew Fuller, Fred Lentz, Bill Mathews, Joe Taylor, and Jack Skillet

Finished:  2nd in the first heat race behind Andrew Fuller and 4th in the third heat race behind Andrew Fuller, Joe Taylor, and Bill Mathews

Feature race won by:  Andrew B. “Cokey” Fuller of Arkansas City, Kansas

 

 

July 20, 1929 – Anthony Downs in Anthony, Kansas

Car:  Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

Finished:  1st in feature race

 

 

July 27, 1929 - Cowley County Fairgrounds on west edge of Winfield, Kansas

Car:  Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

Qualified:  1st in time trials at 32.7 seconds after spinning out on his first attempt

Finished:  1st in the second heat race but crashed through the fence on the second lap of the feature race while leading

Feature race won by:  Art Hutchins of Tulsa, Oklahoma

 

 

September 2, 1929 - Arkansas City Speedway a.k.a. West Madison Speedway on west edge of Arkansas City, Kansas

Car:  #5 Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

Qualified:  4th behind Andrew Fuller, Earl Hovenden, and Cotton Grable

Finished:  4th in the first match (heat) race behind Earl Hovenden, Cotton Grable, and Andrew Fuller; 1st in the second match (heat) race; and dropped out of the feature race after the engine failed

Feature race won by:  Earl Hovenden of Duncan, Oklahoma

 

 

September 12, 1929 – Collingsworth County Fairgrounds at Wellington, Texas

Car:  Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

 

 

September 14, 1929 – Collingsworth County Fairgrounds at Wellington, Texas

Car:  Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

 

 

September 17, 1929 – Duncan Fairgrounds at Duncan, Oklahoma

Car:  Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

Feature race won by:  Sam Hoffman of Sioux City, Iowa

 

 

September 18, 1929 – Duncan Fairgrounds at Duncan, Oklahoma

Car:  Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

Finished:  5th in the third heat race behind Johnny Kreiger, Vern McComb, Andrew Fuller and Chet Gardner

Feature race won by:  Johnny Kreiger of Rochester, New York

 

 

July 4, 1930 - Arkansas City Speedway a.k.a. West Madison Speedway on west edge of Arkansas City, Kansas

Car:  #7 Hill special – a Fronty owned by Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill of Arkansas City, Kansas

Qualified:  3rd in time trials at 31.4 seconds behind Carl Mayfield and Pat Cunningham

Finished:  4th in the first heat race behind Pat Cunningham, Andrew Fuller and Rea Bray; 3rd in the second heat race behind Rea Bray and Jimmy Davis; 1st in the third heat race; and 5th in the feature race behind Pat Cunningham, Rea Bray, Andrew Fuller, and Robert Landon

Feature race won by:  Pat Cunningham of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

July 20, 1930 - Arkansas City Speedway a.k.a. West Madison Speedway on west edge of Arkansas City, Kansas

Car:  “stock car”

Qualified:  Tied with Matt Ward for 1st place in time trials with 35.8 seconds but lost the coin toss so officially qualified in 2nd place

Finished:  Running 2nd to Matt Ward in the first heat race when he dropped out due to an overheating engine; 1st in consolation race

Feature race won by:  Andrew B. “Cokey” Fuller of Arkansas City, Kansas

 

 

July 25, 1930 - Bo Stearns Speedway north of Wichita, Kansas

Car:  Fronty

Qualified:  Within the top six positions but his exact qualifying position is unknown

Finished:  Crashed in the first heat race, 1st in the second heat race, was running at the end of the feature race but did not finish in the top 3

Feature race won by: Lawrence O. Hughes of Beatrice, Nebraska

 

 

August 26, 1930 – Valley County Fairgrounds at Ord, Nebraska

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri.  (Note:  The Lawhon Brothers entered two cars in this race with Lew Reynolds of St. Joseph, Missouri driving the second entry – #X-35 Lawhon special Fronty)

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

August 27, 1930 – Valley County Fairgrounds at Ord, Nebraska

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri.  (Note:  The Lawhon Brothers entered two cars in this race with Lew Reynolds of St. Joseph, Missouri driving the second entry – #X-35 Lawhon special Fronty)

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

August 28, 1930 - North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finish:  1st in the consolation race

Feature race won by:  Vern McComb of North Chicago, Illinois

 

 

August 29, 1930 - North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finish:  3rd in the first heat race behind John Gerber and Vern McComb; 2nd in the feature race behind John Gerber

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 1, 1930 - Hawkeye Downs Raceway at Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  1st in the second heat race; 1st in the third heat race, and 5th in feature race behind John Gerber, Bob Carey, Vern McComb, and Howard “Speed” Adams

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 19, 1930 Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

Feature race won by:  Rea Bray of Hutchinson, Kansas

 

 

September 25, 1930 - Central Kansas Fairgrounds in Abilene, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  1st in second heat race and 2nd in the feature race behind John Gerber

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 26, 1930 - Central Kansas Fairgrounds in Abilene, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

October 11, 1930 – St. Louis, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

October 12, 1930 – St. Louis, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

May 24, 1931 - Smithville Fairgrounds at Smithville, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri.  (Note:  The Lawhon Brothers entered two cars in this race with Lew Reynolds of St. Joseph, Missouri driving the second entry – #X-35 Lawhon special Fronty)

Finished:  3rd in first heat race behind John Gerber and Pat Cunningham; 3rd in trophy dash behind John Gerber and Pat Cunningham

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

May 30, 1931 - Hawkeye Downs Raceway at Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  6th in time trials at 29.20 seconds behind John Gerber, Pat Cunningham, Emory Collins, Gus Schrader, and Bert Ficken

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

June 7, 1931 - Smithville Fairgrounds at Smithville, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by George and Ernie Lawhon of St. Joseph, Missouri.  (Note:  The Lawhon Brothers entered two cars in this race with Lew Reynolds of St. Joseph, Missouri driving the second entry – #X-35 Lawhon special Fronty)

Qualified:  5th in time trials at 31.00 seconds behind Pat Cunningham, John Gerber, Earl Hovenden, and Bert Ficken

Finished:  3rd in the second heat race behind Earl Hovenden and Maynard Clark; 4th in the feature race behind John Gerber, Bert Ficken, and Earl Hovenden

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

June 14, 1931 - Askarben Speedway at Omaha, Nebraska

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

June 27, 1931 - Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  4th in time trials at 28.98 seconds behind John Gerber, Bert Ficken, and Emory Collins.

Finished:  2nd in the second heat race behind Sam Hoffman and 5th in the feature race behind John Gerber, Bert Ficken, Emory Collins, and Sam Hoffman

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

June 28, 1931 - Smithville Fairgrounds at Smithville, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  5th in time trials at 31.2 seconds behind John Gerber, Pat Cunningham, Bert Ficken, and Sam Hoffman

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

July 4, 1931 - Adams County Fairgrounds at Hastings, Nebraska

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

August 21, 1931 - Shelby County Fairgrounds at Harlan, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  4th in first heat race behind John Gerber, Pat Cunningham, and Joe Varilek

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 1, 1931 – Valley County Fairgrounds at Ord, Nebraska

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  2nd in time trials at 29.42 seconds behind John Gerber

Finished:  3rd in trophy dash behind John Gerber and Sam Hoffman

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 3, 1931 – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  2nd in the Class A heat race behind Pat Cunningham and 1st in the feature race

Feature race won by:  Lew Irwin of Iola, Kansas

 

  

September 4, 1931 – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  1st in the Class A heat race and 1st in the feature race

Feature race won by:  Lew Irwin of Iola, Kansas setting a new track record of 9 minutes, 16.0 seconds for 20 laps on the ½ mile racetrack

 

 

September 7, 1931 - Hawkeye Downs Raceway at Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  5th in time trials at 28.60 seconds behind John Gerber, Gus Schrader, Bert Ficken, and Sam Hoffman

Finished:  1st in the second heat race and 3rd in the feature race behind Bert Ficken and Bryan Saulpaugh.  Irwin finished the feature on a flat tire that had allowed Saulpaugh to pass him for 2nd place late in the race.

Feature race won by:  Bert Ficken of Denver, Colorado

 

 

September 10, 1931 - Southern Iowa Speedway at the northwest edge of Oskaloosa, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  4th in time trials at 30.1 seconds behind John Gerber, Pat Cunningham, and Bert Ficken

Finished:  Crashed in the feature race

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 17, 1931 - Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  2nd in time trials at 28.40 seconds behind John Gerber

Finished:  2nd in the second heat race behind Emory Collins; 4th in the handicap race behind John Gerber, Emory Collins, and Howard “Speed” Adams; and 4th in the feature race behind John Gerber, Emory Collins, and Howard “Speed” Adams.

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 19, 1931 - Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  6th in time trials at 31.20 seconds behind Emory Collins, Howard “Speed” Adams, Clarence Haskell, John Gerber and Pat Cunningham

Finished:  3rd in the second heat race behind John Gerber and Howard “Speed” Adams; 5th in the feature race behind John Gerber, Emory Collins, Clarence Haskell, and Howard “Speed” Adams

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

September 27, 1931 – Andrews County Fairgrounds at Savannah, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  3rd in the in the 5-mile main event behind Mark Billman and Pat Cunningham

Feature race won by:  Mark Billman of Indianapolis, Indiana

 

 

May 22, 1932 - Smithville Fairgrounds at Smithville, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

May 29, 1932 - Smithville Fairgrounds at Smithville, Missouri

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

June 19, 1932 - Bo Stearns Speedway north of Wichita, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Canceled due to rain

 

 

August 7, 1932 - Bo Stearns Speedway north of Wichita, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  4th in time trials at 32.3 seconds behind Ted Davis, Verne Ellis, and Pat Cunningham

Finished:  2nd in the second heat race behind J. E. White and 3rd in the feature race behind Pat Cunningham and Ted Davis

Feature race won by:  Pat Cunningham of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

August 19, 1932 - Shelby County Fairgrounds at Harlan, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  11th in time trials at 33.0 seconds behind John Gerber, Sam Hoffman, Fred Dresselhuys, Emory Collins, Clarence Haskell, Herbert Palmer, Rea Bray, Mike Floyd, Wes Breeding, and Vern Anderson

Finished:  3rd in the second heat race behind Sam Hoffman and Emory Collins

Feature race won by:  John Gerber of Stanwood, Iowa

 

 

August 25, 1932 - Dawson County Raceway at Lexington, Nebraska

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  Tie for 9th in time trials with Tex West at 28.4 seconds and behind Sam Hoffman, Art Martinson, Maynard Clark, Lloyd Fisher, Pat Cunningham and others.

Feature race won by:  Maynard Clark of Milan, Illinois

 

 

August 26, 1932 - Iowa State Fairgrounds Speedway east of Des Moines, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

September 1, 1932 – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – A Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  Turned over in the first heat race breaking one of Irwin’s arms and ending his season.

Feature race won by:  Art Martinson of Denver, Colorado

 

 

May 30, 1933 - Hawkeye Downs Raceway at Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  29.70 seconds

Finished:  4th in the first 5-lap heat race and 1st in the fifth 5-lap heat race covering that distance in that race in 5 minutes, 12.35 seconds

Feature race won by:  Gus Schrader of Cedar Rapids , Iowa

 

 

July 4, 1933 Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  1st in time trials at 30.5 seconds

Finished:  1st the first 5-lap heat race in a time of 2 minutes, 33.0 seconds; 1st in the 5-lap handicap race in a time of 2 minutes, 43.0 seconds; and 1st in the 15-lap sweepstakes race in a time of 8 minutes flat

Feature won by: Lew Irwin of Iola, Kansas

 

 

August 13, 1933 - Bo Stearns Speedway north of Wichita, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri.  (Note:  The Lawhon Brothers entered two cars in this race with F. Johnson of Lincoln, Nebraska driving the second entry which was also known as a Lawhon special)

Feature won by:  Pat Cunningham of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

August 31, 1933 – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – A Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  3rd in the second 10-lap heat race behind Joe Turco and Art Martinson

Feature race won by:  Clyde Gilbert of Brighton, Colorado

 

 

September 1, 1933 – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – A Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  2nd in the first 10-lap heat race behind Clyde Gilbert

Feature race won by:  Clyde Gilbert of Brighton, Colorado

 

 

September 18, 1933 Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Finished:  4th in the third 10-lap heat race, 1st in the 10-lap consolation race in a time of 5 minutes and 13.0 seconds, and 3rd in the feature race behind Clarence “Speed” Haskell and Lloyd Davis

Feature won by: Clarence “Speed” Haskell of Lincoln, Nebraska

 

 

September 22, 1933 Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

Vern McComb in a Lawhon special in 1929 – Roy Eaton collection

 

Pat Cunningham in the Lawhon Special c1935 – Larry Sullivan photo

 

George “Joie” Chitwood in a Lawhon special at Davenport, Iowa in 1935 – Larry Sullivan photo

 

Pat Cunningham in a Lawhon special in 1937 – John Distefano collection

 

Chuck Lang in a Lawhon special - Four-Banger magazine

 

An unidentified man in one of the Lawhon specials in front of their engine shop in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1946 - Photo from the book History of Lawhon Construction Company by Gilbert R. Pickett

 

Chuck Frame tried but failed to qualify this Lawhon owed car in the 1946 Indianapolis "500" - Westerhaus collection

 

This photo of the #5 Lawhon Special was taken in front of their garage in St. Joseph, Missouri c1950 - Gary Ferguson collection

 

Lawhon employee Robert Ferguson seated in the #5 Lawhon Special in front of their garage in St. Joseph, Missouri c1950 - Gary Ferguson collection

 

Hershel Wagner, shown here, drove the #5 Lawhon special in IMCA races in 1953 and 1954 – Don Radbruch collection

 

 

Car:  #X-3 Lawhon special – a Fronty owned by the Lawhon Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri

Qualified:  3rd in time trials at 29.96 seconds behind Clarence “Speed” Haskell and Paul Smith

Finished:  3rd behind in the first 10-lap heat race behind Clarence “Speed” Haskell and Pat Cunningham, and lost a tire in the feature race but still managed to finish 4th behind Clarence “Speed” Haskell, Pat Cunningham, and Ted Davis

Feature won by: Clarence “Speed” Haskell of Lincoln, Nebraska

 

 

October 29, 1933 – Industrial Speedway at Dallas, Texas

Car:  #5 Lawhon special

Finished:  3rd in the first heat behind Tex West and Pat Cunningham; 2nd in the handicap race behind Paul Smith; and 3rd in the consolation race behind Red Hodges and J. D. Mackey.  “Irwin showed superior driving skill by bringing one of the slowest cars on the track in for 3rd place money (in the consolation race).” – Dallas Morning News

Feature won by:  Austin E. Wetzler a.k.a. “Tex West” of Dallas, Texas

 

 

November 12, 1933 – Industrial Speedway at Dallas, Texas

 

Car:  #5 Lawhon special

Finished:  2nd in the first heat behind Tex West and 1st in the feature race

Feature won by:  Lew Irwin of Iola, Kansas who covered the 20-lap distance on the 5/8 mile racetrack in 10 minutes, 10.4 seconds

 

 

December 4, 1933 – Industrial Speedway at Dallas, Texas

Car:  #5 Lawhon special

Finished:   3rd in the first heat behind Verne Ellis and Red Campbell; 3rd in the handicap race behind Bill Foster and Tex West; and dropped out the 20-lap feature race on the 17th lap with engine trouble while running in 2nd place.

Feature won by:  Sherman “Red” Campbell of Iowa City, Iowa

 

 

December 17, 1933 – Industrial Speedway at Dallas, Texas

 

Car:  #5 Lawhon special

Finished:  1st in the second 8-lap heat race in a time of 3 minutes, 51.1 seconds on the 5/8 mile racetrack;

Feature won by:  Pat Cunningham of St. Joseph, Missouri

 

 

May 30, 1934 - Hawkeye Downs Raceway at Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Car:  #5 Lawhon special

  

 

August 30, 1934 – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #5 Lawhon special – Lew Irwin entered these races as driver of the #700 B & B special, a supercharged Fronty built by Leonard Kerbs of Otis, Kansas and owned by C. O. Bennett of St. Joseph, Missouri but for some, as yet unknown reason, Sam Hoffman of Omaha, Nebraska drove the car in place of Irwin.

Feature race won by:  Clyde Gilbert of Brighton, Colorado

 

 

August 31, 1934 – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds on north edge of Belleville, Kansas

Car:  #700 B & B special, a supercharged Fronty built by Leonard Kerbs of Otis, Kansas and owned by C. O. Bennett of St. Joseph, Missouri

Feature race won by:  Clyde Gilbert of Brighton, Colorado

 

This “Lawhon Special” racing engine was designed and built in the Lawhon’s engine shop in St. Joseph, Missouri – St. Joseph News-Press photo

 

 

         

Lew Irwin had raced competitively against some of the best “outlaw” racing talent of his time.  It is not known when or why he gave up racing but a young driver named George Chitwood (later known as “Joie” Chitwood) replaced him in the Lawhon special in 1935 and went on to have a successful career in motor sports including competing in the Indianapolis “500” seven times.

In the early 1940s, Irwin moved his family to Irvington (now a part of Fremont), California where he started a number of businesses including one to convert busses into motor homes.

In 1981, Irwin moved back to Iola, Kansas where he passed away on November 10, 1987.  He is buried in Highland Cemetery on the north edge of Iola.

 

 

The Lawhon Brothers

          Brothers Ernest H. “Ernie” Lawhon (1879-1951) and George Edward Lawhon (1893-1964) founded the Lawhon Construction Company in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1910, a company that remains in business there today.  Both of the brothers also tried their hand at driving racing cars for a time.  George Lawhon raced motorcycles as well before turning his attention to designing and building racing cars in the early 1920s.

          Other known drivers of Lawhon Brother’s racing cars besides Irwin, Reynolds, Johnson, and Chitwood, all of whom are mentioned above, were Chuck Lange, Vern McComb, Pat Cunningham, Sam Hoffman, Charlie Waller, Bob Sledge, Chuck Frame, Jimmy Wegscheider and Hershel Wagner.

          The Lawhons built at least two different single overhead cam engine configurations of their own design from patterns they made themselves.  One had 220 cubic inches while the other had 270 cubic inches.  The brothers cast every part including the engine blocks.  One engine design had two intakes and the other had four intakes.  Both were cross flow single head and block castings with a separate crankcase and four exhausts.  One of each of these engines is on display in “Speedy” Bill Smith’s Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

“Never thought of making a lot of money out of building a great racing engine but the day one of my cars throws dust consistently in the eyes of drivers of Offies, then I’m going to celebrate.”

          ---George Lawhon

          The Lawhon’s dream was to consistently beat the then dominant Offenhauser powered cars with a car and engine of their own design.  While they did not achieve that goal on a consistent basis, their car with driver Hershel Wagner, did manage to win an IMCA feature race at the Kansas State Fairgrounds at Hutchinson, Kansas on October 4, 1953 leading all of the Offenhauser powered machines to the checkered flag.

George and Ernie Lawhon are buried in Mount Mora Cemetery in St. Joseph, Missouri.

If you know anything more about the racing career of Lew Irwin or of his car owners, Russell Darius “R. D.” Hill and the Lawhon brothers, please contact Bob Lawrence at: sprintguy @ cox.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

   Books:

  Outlaw Sprint Car Racer, by John Gerber

                Valley County THUNDER, the History of Racing at Ord, Nebraska, by V. Ray Valasek and Bob Mays

                The History of America’s Speedways Past and Present, by Allan E. Brown

                Safe at Any Speed by Ed Watson and Jim Russell

                Dirt Track Legends, Vol. 2 by Lee O’Brien

                History of Lawhon Construction Company by Gilbert R. Pickett

   Newspapers on microfilm:

                Traveler; Arkansas City, Kansas

                Winfield Daily Courier; Winfield, Kansas

                Wichita Eagle; Wichita, Kansas

                Iola Register; Iola, Kansas

                Sioux City Tribune; Sioux City, Iowa

                Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas

 St. Joseph News-Press; St. Joseph, Missouri

                National Speed Sport News, Englewood, New Jersey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to:

Jeff Adams, Lee Booth, Gayla Campbell, Roy Eaton, Gary Ferguson, Bill Green, Jared Hattaway, Bob Mays, John Pickett, Kem Robertson, Jim Taggart, Barbara Turner, and Ray Valasek

 

 

 

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