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Racing Commentary

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

by Keith Herbst. (EMMR Collection)



They say that opposites attract, while likes repel. A case in point is certainly the shadowy, tragic tale of two midgeteers nearly 70 years ago. The two came from opposite ends of the country, and there was high drama when they met.

Little is known of the early life of Pennsylvanian Alvah “Jeep” Colkitt, except that by the mid-1930s he was a starring road warrior on the outlaw big-car circuit, frequently performing with the Atlantic Motor Racing Association. By 1938 he had moved to the hotbed of eastern midget racing, Paterson, New Jersey, known for its marquee Hinchliffe Stadium.

Colkitt must have eaten nails for breakfast. He played for keeps. His bellicose antics sent him from the races at the Philadelphia National Gardens to a hospital ward with a mangled pelvis. And then there were four months of sheet time following a wreck in Rutland, Vermont.

by Keith Herbst. (EMMR Collection)

After WWII, he often followed a seven-day schedule aboard Pappy Hough machinery. One night in the spring of ’46 at Hinchliffe, Hough driver Lloyd Christopher drilled the guardrail and dumped the V8-60. Hough immediately replaced Christopher with Colkitt for the restart, only to watch his car flip again in the exact same spot.

Nothing, though, could compare with Friday, September 13, at the fabled Stadium. There was an odd and palpable tension in the air. Nasty incidents and confrontations gathered up stalwarts like Harry Gassel and Crocky Wright. In the second heat, Vic Sloane, running side by side with Colkitt, slammed the fence and went over, incurring serious injury. Then, on lap 13 of the feature, as Colkitt was passing Ray Jackson, the two collided. Jackson rolled to his death with a fractured skull and massive internal injuries.

Racing historian Tom Avenengo was sitting in the stands. He recalls how the race was stopped and the officials were soon huddling around the car driven by Bill Schindler, that year’s ARDC president. After a couple of minutes, it was an umpire’s call. Schindler jerked his arm and his thumb over his shoulder – Colkitt was banned for the rest of the year.

Undeterred, Colkitt packed his duffle bag for Arizona to take on Easterner Eddie Lenz, who was tearing up the tracks in the Valley of the Sun. Colkitt broke Lenz’s win streak before returning to the East for the next season.

Meanwhile, another itinerant big-car shoe from California, the dodgy Diego “Dee” Toran, had also wandered into Paterson and the midgets in the late thirties. Not a slide-job less aggressive than Colkitt, the flamboyant Toran fractured his skull, broke both legs, and squandered a $16,000 investment in his equipment in his very first race. Once recovered, he retreated to bull fighting in Mexico but decided that his short, stocky frame was better suited for motorized events.

Soon he was winning and even had his fling at the Brickyard as riding mechanic for Floyd Davis. Both ended up busted up and hospitalized after crashing and being pitched from the car.

After the War, Toran seemed larger than life, showing up for the races in a limousine, dressed to the nines but taking no prisoners on the race track. And poor Vic Sloane. He got it again, this time thanks to Diego. Toran chopped him at Buffalo’s Civic Stadium, injuring him severely, and then joking about it trackside. The crowd was so infuriated that Toran needed a police escort out of the place.

Just like Colkitt, Toran ended up in one of Pappy Hough’s “Little Pig” cars, and, predictably, the two hotheads were soon feudin’ and bangin’. The autumn of the following year, on October 6, 1947, the friction turned explosive.

Pappy Hough’s traveling racing community in 1947. Left to right, Dee Toran,
Jeep Colkitt, Red Raymond, Roscoe “Pappy” Hough, and Walt Walasek.
From MIDGET AUTO RACING HISTORY – Vol. Two, by Crocky Wright.
 (Ed White Collection)

On the 24th lap of a hundred-lapper at Bridgeport, Connecticut, Toran once again displayed his much-practiced chop, this time on Colkitt who was in the Caruso #2. Colkitt bounced off his familiar foe and struck the guardrail, hard. He struggled to climb out of the car before a hushed, sellout crowd, but collapsed. He died in the early hours of the next day.

The deadly duel of Toran and Colkitt, two gritty racers so similar in personality and style, nearly had disastrous consequences for the sport. Though the ARDC attempted to assist him in the proceedings, Toran was convicted of manslaughter and spent four months in jail. It could have turned into a damaging legal precedent, but, fortunately, the action seems largely forgotten over the years.

Toran, too, ended up in obscurity, though his name does reappear in occasional results from stock car and URC shows in the early fifties. In his book DAREDEVILS OF THE FRONTIER, the late Keith Herbst reported that a four-year chunk of Toran’s later life was spent back in the pokey, this time for passing fake ten dollar bills in a nightclub in Trenton, New Jersey.

Dee Toran. From DECADES OF DARING: Midget Racing in the Rocky Mountains,
by Bill Hill. (William Hill Collection)

© 2012 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

If you were interested in this Tearoff, you might enjoy the books below:


By Keith Herbst

Decades of Daring – Midget Racing
in the Rocky Mountains

by Bill Hill

Stop by our Book Store Directory for a look at our book and DVD selections:

Book Store

.: Previous Tearoffs :.

8/16/12 - A Racer at Heart

8/2/12 - Andy Does Dixie


© 2007-12 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181



























































































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