ALVAH AND DIEGO
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
© 2012 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181
If you were interested in this
Tearoff, you might enjoy the books below: