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A Wide Variety of Racing Cars at the West Texas Fair at Abilene

Today we travel back in time to 1921 and the West Texas Fair in Abilene, Texas, where auto races were run on a one-mile horse racing track. The great majority of the cars there are: Ford, Dodge, Essex and other lower-priced cars of the period converted into racing cars.

Two of the cars are specially built thoroughbred racing cars that may have traveled the county fair racing circuit across the country, and stopped at Abilene in the hope of easy pickings or were paid by the promoter to attend. The enlargeable photo above shows the number seven Miller in the pole position, and the car to its left may also be one Harry Miller’s earlier creations?

The two cars on the end of the front row are Model “T” Ford-based racing cars, the one on the far-left appears to have been constructed using early Frontenac Ford racing parts or is one of the “Fronty” Fords cars offered by the Chevrolet brothers.

The second row contains four more cars with one being Ford-based and the balance appearing to be converted four-cylinder Dodges.

Phil “Red” Shafer, who later went on to race in the Indianapolis 500 seven times can be seen posing above at Abilene in a lightweight special powered by a Duesenburg engine. Based on the length of the bottom of the engine visible in the photo it appears to be fitted with an earlier four-cylinder Duesenberg “Walking Beam” engine or one of the later Rochester Duesenberg production engines.

We will return again in the future with more photographs from the West Texas Fair races via of The Portal of Texas History.


21 responses to “A Wide Variety of Racing Cars at the West Texas Fair at Abilene

  1. Good grief , what in the world is the guy in back of the Duesie dressed for ?
    He scared me,and I ain’t ascared o’ nuthin !!!

    { I stole that from Buck Trent !!]

  2. Those race cars were death traps. Open cockpits. No rollbars. No set belts. Sitting on gas tanks. Only the brave and foolish raced then.I recall reading of one race where after three drivers died, they shut down the track for the day. How thoughtful

    • The working theory in those days was it was better to be thrown from the car than remain in it while the fire raged.

  3. I had 2 uncles that were involved in the shriners , but I never saw any dressed like that !!
    All they wore were those round hats with the tassel on top .

  4. The car on the left bears the number 7-11. This is not an early example of racing car sponsorship as the convenience store chain did not receive that name until 1946. So what does it mean?

    • Reference to the dice gambling game craps possibly?
      A certain well known online encyclopedia beginning with wiki has the following:

      “A natural is a term in several gambling games; in each case it refers to one or two specific good outcomes, usually for the player, and often involves achieving a particular score in the shortest and fastest manner possible.[1]

      At craps, a natural is a roll of two dice with a score of 7 or 11 on the come out roll. This will lead to a win for the players who wagered money on the Pass or Come bet, but a loss for players betting Don’t Pass or Don’t Come.[5]”

  5. A little more searching leads to possible additional info on a 7-11 Frontenac (which may or may not be the one in this picture):

    Automobile Races

    On the Historic Half-mile Racetrack at the

    Kansas State Fairgrounds

    Hutchinson, Kansas

    Monday, September 19, 1927

    “Jim “Mack” McFadden Penalosa, Kansas 7-11 Frontenac*

    * The #7-11 Frontenac driven by Jim “Mack” McFadden was owned by Roy Luther O’Laughlin (1896-1930) of Hutchinson, Kansas who just nineteen days earlier (September 1, 1927) was seriously injured when he was struck by a racing car while standing near the racetrack at Belleville, Kansas. As a result of his injuries, O’Laughlin’s left leg had to be amputated.”

    Source of above quotes: the Kansas Racing History website.

  6. how rich the auto racing history of USA is, all my admiration to the people who built and raced these cars, thanks David for reminding of these milestones,

  7. Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, as the Shriners were known until 2010 had many different divisions within each local Shrine. The man shown is probably part of the local Arab unit, but there were the Clown unit, Mobile or vehicle unit, Band unit, Scottish unit, etc. depending on local interests and traditions. Most units had an elaborate uniform for parade and special events.

  8. Notice that: These cars are after the days of Driver with Mechanic/Spotter aboard. The “rear view mirror” ((Racing technology) eliminated the need for a Spotter! Later fuel pump engines eliminated the need for the Mechanic to maintain fuel pressure by manually pressurizing the gas tank. In later mid Thirties — the very light 1937 & ’38 Ford V-8 Sixty—(with V-8 85 Plus H.P. replacement engines). These Business Coupes dominated Dirt track racing, up to WW-2 !!! Earlier Ford designs did not have the Aerodynamics & lightness of the ’37/ ’38 models . “Joe Public” could “go racing “for cheap! (But let’s not for get The Hudson s!!!) Edwin W.

  9. Dave, thanks so much for putting up this great picture of Phil “Red” Shafer, who made A.A.A.big time board track racing based on numerous victories on the dirt circuit all round the country in this “Duesenberg” special. Interesting to note the truss rods under the frame, indicating the weight of the engine put significant strain on the rather light chassis. However the car is low and presumably had a lot of torque, a good combination to beat a lot of locals in their Ford-based hot rods. (PS Hasn’t anyone been to the Indy 500 parade, with lots of shriners around?)

  10. The racer that I have rebuilt -Whistling Billy, a White steamer – is 1905 and raced on the dirt trotting horse tracks. It has just one seat and no riding mechanic but the longer distance Vanderbilt White racing car had two seats, one for the racing mechanic. I have done considerable research in the newspapers of the seven years that Billy raced and find that most years there were many complaints from the drivers that the trotting horse tracks were too dangerous for racing on as the cars were already too fast for the surface and the build of the tracks. The week that the driver Webb Jay had his serious accident landing in a pond after catching the railing while unsighted by the car that he was overtaking, one driver had already been killed and the famous Barney Oldfield was recovering from injuries. It seems from then that motor racing was almost completely stopped for about a year.

  11. The top photo shows the line-up for the main event of the 1926 Independence Day races at the West Texas Fairgrounds in Abilene/TX, a thirty-miler on the five-eights dirt track, with INDY WINNER Frank Lockhart on the “pole” (front row, inside) in the 122 cubic inch Miller “house car”. After having worked for about a year and a half in Harry Miller’s shop in Los Angeles, Lockhart had come to Indianapolis with the Miller team, and with his 183 cubic inch dirt track racer in tow, which he had built the year before from components bought whenever he could afford so, ready to invade the Midwestern dirt tracks.

    As we all (should) know, history panned out differently, when Harry Miller let Lockhart do some laps in Bennie Hill’s brand new 91 cubic inch Miller in preparation for a possible role as a relief driver, and “the boy” immediately delivered laps well inside the track record. When Pete Kreis, member of Tommy Milton’s team in an equally new and near identical car, came down with a heavy case of the flu a few days before the big race, Lockhart was given a chance and scored a famous victory! Frank sold his dirt track car to Ira Vail to generate cash for the investment to buy out Kreis’s interest in the car, and prepared to tackle the board tracks for a National Championship campaign.

    Unfortunately, though, Lockhart had already placed an entry for the annual Independence Day races at Abilene, after winning both days at the West Texas Fair at the same track in September of 1925, and the Texas promoter was not going to release him from his contract to take part in the National Championship board track races at Rockingham Speedway in Salem/NH the same day! After quite a bit of debate and controversy, the AAA backed the promoter’s argument and Lockhart had to go to the South instead of the Northeast, or risk a hefty penalty. But, which car should he race? Vail, who had let Lockhart fulfill another prior engagement in Detroit/MI a week earlier (which Lockhart had duly won for the new owner of his former car), had already entered for another dirt track race in New England on the Independence Day weekend.

    Harry Miller came to the rescue, by offering Lockhart the use of his old “house car”, originally built in late 1923 for the Argentinian playboy Martin Unzué de Alzaga, whose family then froze his accounts to prevent the acquisition! When no potential buyer stepped forward, Miller came to an arrangement with Bennie Hill the morning of the Thanksgiving Day race at Los Angeles, which saw the former Duesenberg driver race the car on a percentage basis, and this partnership started out in the best possible way with a win straight out of the box. Two and a half years later, Hill made a similar deal for a brand new 91 cubic Inch Miller for the new formula, and Harry gave the old “house car” to Jules Ellingboe for ‘the 500’, with a new crankshaft and con-rods to reduce engine capacity.

    For the Abilene races, the old crankshaft probably went back in, and with this supercharged juggernaut, Lockhart had no problems in winning the time trials, his heat and the main event. After that, Lockhart started his board track career in earnest, with spectacular results. The old “house car” went back to California, where Harry Miller rebuilt it with a bonafide 91 cubic inch engine and a few other goodies, and in this hybrid form the car ran at Indy in 1927 with Earl Devore at the wheel, finishing second behind another rookie winner, George Souders.

    Souders, incidentally, had been the main event winner of the 1925 Independence Day races at Abilene, which ran all through the twenties under AAA sanction. Glenn Breed from Kansas had won the first main event in 1921, before Phil “Red” Shafer won three years in succession. Shafer also won the Fair races all three years, going undefeated at the West Texas Fairgrounds for three consecutive years; Breed had also won the Fair races in 1921.

  12. Phil Red Shafer started racing as a young man he race a marathon car made in nashville in 1912 for The Means auto company a marathon Iowa state distributor . will post photo at later date .

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