Teams and drivers strive to win in every form of motorsport—but some competitors face more obstacles than others on their way to victory and fame. Just as Charlie Wiggins did in 1920, Dewey Gatson, known as “Rajo Jack” (pronounced “Rah-jo”) applied to run in the Indy 500 in 1937 and for a decade after that, only to see his application rejected year after year.
Photo: Rajo Jack won a 200-mile (320 km) stock car race at Silvergate Speedway in San Diego and 100 mile race at San Jose Speedway in1935.
Photo: Rajo Jack raced in the American Racing Association (ARA). He finished third in the season points in 1941.
A skilled mechanic and an equally talented driver, Rajo Jack just wanted to race, and quickly became known for his winning ways. After all the car numbers he chose to run, he inherited the #99 on a secondhand car he bought sight unseen for its alleged winning reputation, but that turned out to be a broken-down relic—and the last car of his career.
Photo: Rajo Jack was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002 and his name now stands forever among the greats.
Famous in the series where he could run, Rajo Jack built a career without ever gaining the fame he deserved. Again and again, he was excluded from tracks on which he could have won, or not allowed in the grandstands or the restrooms on tracks that let him race. His fellow competitors knew and respected him, and many of them stood up for his right to race, but in a segregated sport, his chances were numbered.
Photo: Charlie Wiggins and his wife Roberta, after winning the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes in 1926.
Photo: Willy T Ribbs, the first African American driver to compete in the Indy 500.
To understand the road ahead, you need a rear-view mirror. Force Indy runs the #99 to honor Rajo Jack, and, by extension, to connect our legacy with his, along with Charlie Wiggins before him and Willie T. Ribbs after him, all of them open-wheel pioneers. We're reclaiming the #99 to make it a winner, just as Rajo Jack should have been. Our red-tailed car also honors the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen, Black aces who prevailed in WWII combat—and against the racism that segregated their squadron.
Photo: Tuskegee Airmen - Circa May 1942 to Aug 1943 Location unknown, likely Southern Italy or North Africa.
Photo: The 332nd’s aircraft had distinctive markings that gave them the name “Red Tails.”
In 2021, the #99 became the first car driven by a Black driver to win an INDYCAR-sanctioned race. We have miles of winning ahead of us—and a legacy behind us, urging us on.
Photo: Myles Rowe pilots the #99 USF2000 car to victory at the New Jersey Motorsports Park August 29, 2021.
Photo Credits: Jim & Sheri Barnett