Dean Charles “Charlie” Towner

1929 – 2018

 

Laura Mae Swem & Charlie Towner

before they were married in 1953.

 

Both photos just above, show Towner in Howard Phillips’ #32 Model A Ford

roadster at a pasture racetrack at Herington, Kansas c1950.  This was the

1st stock car race that he ever competed in.

Paul Flynn collection

 

His brother-in-law, Melvin Swem, washing Towner’s #48 Ford coupe.

 

Towner warming up his

Ford coupe before the races at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas on September 18, 1954.

Tom Kelso photo

 

Kansas State Fairgrounds, Hutchinson, Kansas

B feature – September 18, 1954

Towner’s #48 Ford coupe was involved in this 3rd lap accident but there were no injuries.

Tom Kelso photo

 

 

Kansas State Fairgrounds, Hutchinson, Kansas

B feature – September 18, 1954

“Racky” looks over the damage to Towner’s #48 Ford coupe while Towner, himself, (white t-shirt with back to the camera) looks on with his helmet in his hand.

Tom Kelso photo

 

Towner had a new (to him) Ford ready for the 1955 racing season.  Here he was shoved from behind by another driver and into the crash wall on the 19th lap of the A feature at Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas on May 22, 1955.

 

Towner is shown here taking a victory lap after winning the 1st heat race at Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas on Memorial Day, May 30, 1957.

 

Towner won the trophy dash at Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas on July 4, 1957.  The trophy girls have yet to be identified but the flagman was Paul Frownfelter.

 

Towner won the trophy dash at Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas again on July 7, 1957.  Neither the trophy girl, nor the flagman have been identified in this photo.

 

Towner starting a car race from the track surface at Salina Speedway at Salina, Kansas c1970.

 

#27 Towner participating in a demolition derby c1976.

Keely Denning collection

 

Towner on his Yamaha motorcycle while participating in a motocross in 1976

Keely Denning collection

 

Towner cleaning the windshield & Norm Nelson cleaning the grill of the 1st of the replica cars they assembled

Keely Denning collection

 

Finished

Norm Nelson’s was the 1st of the 4 replicars that Towner helped assemble

Keely Denning collection

 

 

Towner is shown here in Howard Phillips’

#32 Model A Ford roadster during a stock car

race in a pasture at Solomon, Kansas c1950.

Paul Flynn collection

 

Towner in Howard Phillips’ #32 Model A

Ford roadster followed by #83 Bud Fuller

in his Dodge sedan during a stock car race

 in a pasture at Solomon, Kansas c1950.

Paul Flynn collection

 

Towner, at left, leading a “pasture” stock

car race in a #32 Model A Ford roadster at

Solomon, Kansas c1950.  The roadster

was owned by Howard Phillips.

Paul Flynn collection

 

#48 Towner & #33 Fred South of Salina, Kansas tangle on the front straightaway at Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas on June 13, 1954.

 

Kansas State Fairgrounds, Hutchinson, Kansas

B feature – September 18, 1954

The Geneses of the 3rd lap accident.

Tom Kelso photo

 

Kansas State Fairgrounds, Hutchinson, Kansas

B feature – September 18, 1954

“I hit a spun-out car head-on at 65 m.p.h. and really fixed everything.”

#48 Charlie Towner

Tom Kelso photo from the M. B. Smith collection

 

Kansas State Fairgrounds, Hutchinson, Kansas

B feature – September 18, 1954

The driver of the overturned car has yet to be identified.

Tom Kelso photo

 

Kansas State Fairgrounds, Hutchinson, Kansas

B feature – September 18, 1954

The frame on Towner’s #48 Ford coupe was bent too badly to be repair after this accident.

Tom Kelso photo

 

This is the view of the aftermath of Towner’s crash on May 22, 1955 at Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas.  Laura Towner was seated on the front row of the grandstands when her husband hit the crash wall right in front of her.  Laura can be seen in this photo dressed in white and seated in the front row with another lady, in darker clothing, bent over her.  This wreck also destroyed Towner’s new (to him) Ford stock car.  Towner was taken to the hospital by ambulance but, after being checked out, he was released uninjured.

 

Towner won the trophy dash at Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas again on July 7, 1957.  The trophy girl has yet to be identified.

 

Towner’s street Ducati in 1972.  Note the #1 liscense plate number.

Keely Denning collection

 

Towner on his Yamaha motorcycle while participating in a motocross in 1976

Keely Denning collection

 

The ad for the Gazelle 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK roadster touring car “replicars” that initiated the orders for the cars.

Keely Denning collection

 

Towner, kneeling in front, with the 2nd & 3rd 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK roadster touring car “replicars” he helped assemble from kits in the late 1970s.  The owners of these cars are, standing left to right with their cars, Bob Crawford & Dr. L. F. Noller.

Salina Journal photo

 

The 4th and final replicar that Towner and Norm Nelson assisted in assembling.  This one was owned by Towner’s son-in-law.

Keely Denning collection

 

The replicars drew a crowd wherever they turned up.  Here, Rolland Crocker was driving with Towner in the passenger seat.

Keely Denning collection

 

Charlie Towner was born October 11, 1929 at Schenectady, New York, the older of two children born to Dean Willard Towner (1904-1982) and Zelma Fern McColl (1908-1997).  Charlie’s family moved to New Jersey in the early 1930’s and then on to Solomon, Kansas, while he was still in his teens, saying that he got to Kansas “as quick as I could and never planned to leave.”

Towner graduated from high school at Salina, Kansas in 1947 and spent much of his leisure time hunting, camping, becoming good at archery, refereeing sporting events, doing many do-it-yourself projects and driving stock cars on unnamed “pasture racetracks” at Herington and Solomon, Kansas.  He married his first wife before joining the United States Army and serving as a sniper during the Korean War.  After his discharge, he was divorced.  He became a “levelman” on a surveying team for the Wilson & Company Engineers & Architects with offices in Wichita and Salina, Kansas, before becoming a civil engineer and draftsman for that same company.  He was married second in 1953 to Laura Mae [Swem] (1931-2015) and they had 5 children.  Laura and Charlie made their home in Wichita where, in 1954, he again drove his own stock cars at Cejay Stadium.

Charlie and Laura moved back to Solomon in 1956 and he finished out his racing career at Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas in 1958.

Charlie and Laura eventually divorced and he was married third in 1974 to Shirley Jean [George] (1936-2009).  That marriage also expanded his family by including 3 step-daughters.

His incomplete racing record is as follows.  The text in quotation marks are firsthand quotes by Towner himself, as written in a scrapbook that he kept about his racing:

 

c1950 – An unnamed racetrack in a pasture near Herington, Kansas

Towner drove a #32 Model A Ford roadster that was owned by Howard Phillips in this, the 1st race he ever competed in.

 

c1950 – An unnamed racetrack in a pasture near Solomon, Kansas

Towner drove a #32 Model A Ford roadster that was owned by Howard Phillips.

 

June 13, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“My first Wichita race with #48.  I drew pole in the 1st heat and blew a tire on the 3rd lap.  In the B feature (won by Jerry Collins), I hit (Fred South of Salina, Kansas in) car #33 and laid my car on its right side.  (That crash) tore lose 2 shocks and slid the rear spring over, and bent (the) torque tube.  Pit crew: Homer Roof & Fred McKeon”

 

June 20, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“Drew 2nd row pole in the 3rd heat race.  Took 9th and then 11th in the B feature.  Bent the tie-rod and both front shocks came loose.  Also lost a transmission.  Pit crew: Ernie Stoner”  The A feature race was won by Don Fortey.

 

June 27, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“I drew outside, 8th row in the 3rd heat (won by Jack Petty), took 12th, then blew the top out of (the) radiator in the B feature (won by Jerome Chumley).  Pit crew: Ernie Stoner & Earl Koon”

 

July 4, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“As usual, made no money and cracked a head in the middle of the B feature (won by John Bush).  Pit crew: Ernie Stoner & Homer Roof”

 

July 5, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“Got lucky and took 5th in the 2nd heat ($8.40) and got in 70 of the 75 laps of the A (feature won by Will Forrest) and burnt out an ignition wire.  Pit crew: Homer Roof”

 

July 25, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“Took 5th in the 2nd heat and cracked my block badly on (the) #2 cylinder.  Made $7.70, but fixed the crack with a can of Pet milk (surprised me too!)  Pit crew: Melvin Swem & Homer Roof”

  

August 1, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“Took 7th in the 3rd heat, (made $2.10), but we got rained out in the middle of the 1st semi-final.  Pit crew: Melvin Swem”

 

August 8, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“I was running 4th in the heat race and got tangled with #11 and didn’t finish.  Took 6th in the B feature ($18.50) so it wasn’t a bad night.  Pit crew: Melvin Swem & Len Pate”

 

August 15, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“I took 3rd in the heat ($11.34) and did no good in the semi-final or A feature.  Pit crew: Melvin Swem”

 

August 22, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“This was a bad night.  I broke a front axle in two and spent a total of $6.50 on miscellaneous welding.  Next week, I’ll put in new front end, rear end and engine.  Pit crew: Melvin Swem”

 

August 23, 1954 – 1/3 mile dirt oval – Jayhawk Speedway in Newton, Kansas

“Went to Newton, broke lose my front shocks and made exactly nothing.  Pit crew: Melvin Swem”

 

September 5, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“Took 3rd in the 1st heat ($12.60, finishing behind Red Forshee & Dale Reed) and nothing else in the other races.  Pit crew: Melvin Swem.”  Don Fortey won the A feature.

 

September 6, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“This was a good Labor Day!  I took 1st in the heat race ($21.00) and 11th in the 100-lap A feature ($8.40).  Pit crew: Melvin Swem”

 

September 12, 1954 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“I laid back in the heat and got pole position in the B (feature).  I led it for 6 laps and finally got passed.  I ended up 4th ($19.20).  Pit crew: Melvin Swem & Chuck Williams”

 

September 18, 1954 – ½ mile dirt oval – Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

“This was (the old) #48’s last race.  I hit a spun-out car head-on at 65 m.p.h. and really fixed everything.  Pit crew: Melvin Swem & Homer Roof”

 

May 8, 1955 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“1st race for the new #48.  Had a little trouble with handling but took 5th in the 3rd heat ($5.60).  I had front hub trouble and had to drop out of the semi-final.  Pit crew: Homer Roof & Hank Harms”

 

May 15, 1955 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“I broke a steering arm in the heat so I was in the B (feature).  Started in 27th place and came up to 8th in the 15 laps ($9.60).  It was the best this season and if things quit breaking, it will be better.  Pit crew: Henry Harms & Homer Roof”

 

May 22, 1955 – 3/10 mile dirt oval – Cejay Stadium in Wichita, Kansas

“I took 2nd in the heat ($13.86) and 8th in the semi-final ($1.44).  Then, in the 19th lap of the A feature, I got hit twice and hit the wall head-on at full speed.  Got a free ride to the hospital in the ambulance.  Nothing hurt except #48 and it is almost completely demolished.  Pit crew:  Hank Harms & Rex Coe”

 

No record has been located to date indicating that Towner competed in any races in 1956 but he did have another Ford ready by May of 1957.

 

May 19, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

Another new #48.  ”Drew scratch position in the heat.  Came up to 3rd.  Drew another scratch (position) in the A feature.  Got knocked out at about 10 laps.  Pit crew:  Homer Roof & Leon Sorenson”

 

May 26, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“Laid back in the heat, and got pole in the consolation.  Won it easily ($12.60).  Spun out in the B (feature) to keep from hitting 2 cars.  (I) finally finished 4th ($6.00).  Pit crew: Homer Roof & Leon Sorenson”

  

May 30, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“A good night.  1st in the heat and won the trophy dash.  Lost my brakes (in) an accident while running 3rd in the A feature (on the) 11th of 35 laps.  Pit crew: Homer Roof & Leon Sorenson”

 

June 2, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“Won the 2nd heat ($16.85), turned the fastest time trial, 2nd in the trophy dash and 2nd in the A feature ($29.49).  Pit crew: Homer Roof & Leon Sorenson”

 

Unspecified date in 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“Not so good this evening.  Took old #48 down and Doc Burt drove it, also took 2nd in a heat ($9.66), 2nd in trophy dash, 6th in A feature (won nothing for that).  Pit crew: Homer Roof & Leon Sorenson”

 

Unspecified date in 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“1st in 3rd heat ($18.13), 4th in the A feature ($15.23).”

  

Unspecified date in 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“1st in 3rd heat ($19.30).”

  

Unspecified date in 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“Won nothing.”

 

July 4, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“Won the 1st heat, won the trophy dash, 4th in (the) A feature.  #48 was contested but mechanic couldn’t read (the) micromotor so we were called stock.  Won $57.46”

 

July 7, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“2nd in the 2nd heat ($6.82), 1st in the trophy dash and took my 1st, 1st place in the A feature (68.69).  Pit crew: Homer Roof & Mike Prewitt”

 

Unspecified date in 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“Won nothing.”

 

August 4, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“Nothing but trouble.”

 

August 11, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“3rd in heat ($9.51), 2nd in A feature ($41.61)”

 

August 18, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“4th in heat (won nothing), 4th in semi-final (won nothing), 2nd in A feature ($50.65).”

 

August 25, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“2nd in heat ($15.47), tore up #48 and me too.”

 

September 22, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“2nd in heat, 5th in B feature, total winnings $15.43.”

 

September 29, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“2nd in heat, 3rd in B feature, total winnings $21.79.”

 

October 6, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“2nd in heat $7.50), 1st in B feature ($17.50).”

 

October 13, 1957 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

Ran the fastest time trial.  “2nd in B feature ($12.50).”

 

May 11, 1958 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“1st in semi-final ($32.74).”

 

May 18, 1958 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“3rd in heat ($7.80), 4th in A feature ($14.04).”

 

May 25, 1958 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“1st in B feature ($33.97).”

 

May 30, 1958 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“1st in semi-final ($23.02).”

 

June 1, 1958 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“2nd in heat, 3rd in B feature, won total of $35.44.”

 

June 15, 1958 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“2nd in B feature ($25.60).”

 

June 22, 1958 – ¼ mile dirt oval – Plaza Speedway near Junction City, Kansas

“1st in heat ($21.35).  Near the end of the fast semi-final, the steering broke putting me into the rock cut at the north end of the track.”  He received a broken nose, some broken ribs & a bad cut in this career-ending accident.  He would later claim that the broken ribs were the worst injury he ever experienced and he never wanted to experience that again.

 

            In the early 1970s, Towner became the starter / flagman at the Salina Speedway, a new 3/8 mile dirt oval racetrack southwest of Salina, Kansas.  He soon gave up that position though, when he was required to apply his craft from a flagman’s stand rather than stare down the drivers from the middle of the racetrack and then jump into the air waving the green flag while he ran sideways to the pits.  It was his contention that the flagman’s stand was nothing but a death trap for the flagman.

           Towner selected competing in automobile demolition derbies as his next challenge but soon turned his attention to motocross racing.  He began competing in that sport in the mid-1970s.  He obtained a Ducati motorcycle for street use but competed in the motocross events with his sons and youngest daughter all over Kansas on a Yamaha.

 In the late 1970s, Towner assisted a friend, Norm Nelson, in building a full-size Gazelle “replicar” of a 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK roadster touring car from a kit Nelson had ordered from Florida.  It turned out to be such a difficult job that it took all of his engineering skills to accomplish the task.  He did such a good job though, that, by the time it was finished, three more friends and relatives were lined up to have him and Nelson assist them in putting their kits together that they had also ordered from Gazelle.

 After a brief hospitalization, Towner passed away on July 16, 2018 and is buried beside his wife, Shirley, in the Gypsum Hill Cemetery in Salina, Kansas.

 If you know anything more about Charlie Towner and his involvement in auto racing, please contact Bob Lawrence at: sprintguy @ cox.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this web page are from the Charlie Towner collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You:

Keely Denning, Connie Lawrence, Debby Nance, Jim Petty & Joe Petty