National Native American Heritage Month: John R. Boling, Racecar Driver

In 1920, racecar driver John Riley Boling became the first Native American to compete in the Indianapolis 500. He finished 11th in a field of 23 drivers. (This was only the eighth running of the world-famous annual automobile race, which takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.)

Boling had been born in 1895 in Bloomfield, Texas, and he eventually settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He began participating in automobile races in 1916. Within just a few years, Boling established himself as a formidable driver on speedway tracks throughout the United States.

Boling’s skills behind the wheel were shown when he qualified for the high-pressure Indianapolis 500 in 1920, and those skills were also readily seen and even more appreciated in his various other races during that decade. In the spring of 1921, for example, he made a powerful impression while competing at the speedway in San Antonio. “Breaks Previous Texas Records,” announced a headline for a Kansas City Kansan article recounting how he did in the Alamo City. In setting new records at the San Antonio Speedway, Boling took only one minute and 19 seconds to finish first in a two-mile (3.2-kilometer) race around the track.

Boling gave a similarly strong and memorable performance in 1925 during a series of Labor Day races at the speedway in Cushing, Oklahoma. The Cushing Daily Citizen stated at the time, “The Tulsa daredevil is recognized as one of the best drivers in the southwest and he has driven several races on some of the best tracks in the United States and in the fastest company.”

On that holiday afternoon in Cushing, Boling lived up to his reputation and he did so in front of thousands of car-racing fans. The Cushing Daily Citizen reported, “In the big race, a twelve-mile [19.3-kilometer] event for the $400 purse, John Boling, Indian pilot of Tulsa, beat the field of six cars to the tape and won the coveted award.”

In 1931, Boling competed for a second and final time in the Indianapolis 500. As a result of engine problems with his automobile after only six laps around the track, however, he had to drop out of the race. Boling retired from racing cars that same year. He died in 1962 at the age of 66 in Tulsa and is buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in that city.

For more information on John R. Boling, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Boling.

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