Long before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and over a decade before Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” in baseball, Rajo Jack was racing and winning dirt track races up and down the West Coast.
Despite the stigma of dirt track racers intolerance for minorities during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, the other racers respected Rajo Jack’s racing talent. Traveling between races as a group, the drivers would band together when restaurant owners refused to serve Rajo. The other drivers demanded that he be served or they all would leave. More often than not, the restaurant owners would serve them all. The same situations would occur at motels and again the drivers would band together and Rajo would get his room, often with his wife.
He had to bring his wife Ruth with him on the road because he knew that if he won, he wouldn’t be able to kiss the white trophy girl. Ruth would do the trophy girl’s job and give Rajo the trophy and a kiss. The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame recounts a story where he once let the other driver win in a two lap match race because he knew that he couldn’t kiss the white trophy girl.
Rajo Jack was born in 1905 as Dewey Gatson in Tyler, Texas. To get around the color barrier, Gatson adopted the name Rajo Jack and often claimed to be native american. Other times he claimed to be a Portuguese man named Jack DeSoto.
The prominent racing association of the time was the AAA. Rajo Jack never raced in the AAA, making him one of the original “outlaw” racers. This had its own drawbacks however, only AAA members could race in the Indianapolis 500. Rajo claimed that he couldn’t pass the physical examination for the membership because he was blind in one eye but his fellow racers knew it was because of the color of his skin.
Rajo sold auto parts, raced, and worked as a mechanic until he died on February 27, 1956. He was travelling with his brother when he died of heart failure in Kern County, California. The name on his death certificate read Rajo Jack. He is buried in the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Carson, California.
- In 1934 Rajo Jack won a 200-mile stock car race at Silvergate Speedway in San Diego.
- On March 17, 1935, he won a 100 mile race at San Jose Speedway.
- Jack won a 200 mile stock car race at Mines Field in Los Angeles on October 25, 1936. He took the lead in lap 56 on the 1 mile B-shaped course. He won the race by 2 laps with a time of 3 hours, 47 minutes, and 4-10 seconds.
- He won a 300 mile stock car race at Oakland Speedway on May 30, 1937.
- Other wins include a co-win as a relief driver for Tex Peterson in the 1939 500 mile race at Oakland Speedway, and several wins at Southern Ascot Speedway in South Gate, California. Among his wins at Southern Ascot were a 300 lap stock car race on October 1, 1939 and a 250 lap stock car race on June 16, 1940, both driving a Citroën.
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