New Book Examines the Life of Black 1920s Auto Racing Trailblazer

Salem, OR — A new book out May 5, The Brown Bullet: Rajo Jack’s Drive to Intergrate Auto Racing (Chicago Review Press), tells the life story of an overlooked figure in auto racing history.

Award-winning journalist Bill Poehler shares details of Rajo Jack’s route to become a race car driver after shedding his given name of Dewey Gatson and leaving behind jobs as a carnival worker and auto parts salesman.

Born in racially segregated Tyler, Texas in 1905, Gatson headed at 15 to Portland, Oregon, where his mechanical skills caught the eye of the Rajo Motor Company.

But the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association forbade African Americans from competing in sanctioned events, forcing Gatson to obscure his race. He posed as Portuguese and Native American, adopting pseudonyms including Jack DeSoto, Rajah Ramascus and the one he made famous, Rajo Jack.

He raced in independent “outlaw” events, where his skills and charisma attracted fans and established him as a one of the West Coast’s most popular drivers. He won more than 30 events in his career and changed the racing world by earning the respect and admiration of his white contemporaries. Despite his success against past and future Indy 500 winners, the AAA never allowed him to achieve his goal of competing in the iconic race.

To celebrate the book’s release, Poehler will host a Facebook Live event May 5 at 5 p.m. PT. Find him @BillPoehlerAuthor. Vintage Motorsport’s May 7 eNewsletter will include an interview with Poehler.