ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. (October 13, 2021) – Much of black history is lost. Due to the rules (written & unwritten) of the early 19th century, blacks were restricted from documenting their history in a written form. If they did, the documents were destroyed, so much of black history was passed down orally, through generations. This causes our history to be clouded with inaccurate facts and half recollections. This brings me to the case of Bobby Wallace.
In some circles, Bobby Wallace was the first black man to race in the Indy 500. In the 1930s, this was an impossible feat because blacks were banned from racing in these events. So how did Bobby Wallace pull off the impossible, and who exactly is Bobby Wallace?
Speedway records show that in 1932 a W. Leroy Wallace was registered as a ride-in mechanic in the 500 lap Indianapolis Speedway. But, unfortunately, that’s all the information that is listed about this man. Nothing indicated who he was a mechanic for or whether he actually rode in the race.
Fast forward 4 years… a man named Bobby Wallace won a dirt track race in the black racing series at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds. This is the same place where the Gold and Glory races were held.
Could this be that W Leroy Wallace and Bobby Wallace were the same person? Some racing historians believe that Leroy may have passed himself as white, changed his name to Bobby Wallace, and ridden in the race as a mechanic. Seems far-fetched for these times, but people did whatever they had to do to race in those days.
In a 1985 article posted in the Indianapolis News, Pauline Baltimore states her brother, Bobby Wallace was a racecar driver in the 1930s. She remembers her brother bringing race car driver Arthur Chevrolet to her home. However, since her brother was very light-skinned and had dark red hair, she also states, “I don’t think they knew he was black.”
We have no proof if Leroy Wallace and Bobby Wallace are the same person or if either one participated in the 500 lap racing in 1932. However, if he did participate in the race, it would make Willy T. Ribbs the 2nd black man to participate in the Indy 500. Of course, a change in history doesn’t take away from Willy’s accomplishments; he was an accomplished driver before racing in the Indy 500. Still, it shows us how much more there is to learn about the contributions of blacks in motorsports and the accuracy of our history.
-Christopher Harris | Co-Founder | African American Racers Association