Alvin Eugene “Gene” Coffman

1934 – 1998

 

 

 

          Gene was born “Alvin Ujean Coffman” on December 23, 1934 in Liberal, Kansas to John E. and Bertha O. (Spiegel) Coffman although, even Gene may not have known about the spelling of his middle name as “Ujean”!  His name has been found as “Alvin E. Coffman” on some legal papers although, he preferred to use “Eugene A. Coffman” in such matters.  Calling him “Alvin” was a good way to wind up in a fight!

          Gene ran away from home when he was in the fifth grade and worked for a time as a laborer on a racehorse farm, living in the bunkhouse with the rest of the employees.  Because of his short stature, they even trained him to be a jockey.  After reassessing some of the decisions he had made up to that point in his young life though, he decided to return home to his parents. 

             

 

 

1956

 

          Gene began his racing career when he went to work for the Hudson garage in Liberal, Kansas in May of 1956.  A coworker called “PeeWee” had a Hudson jalopy and Gene started going to the races to assist him with his car.  Gene and PeeWee decided to build a car together so they purchased a ’41 Ford sedan.  They rebuilt the flathead V8 engine, installed roll bars, painted the car light blue, added the #10 in front of the rear wheels and a caricature of Bugs Bunny on the right front door.  They named the car the “Hoppen 8”.

          Their first race was at Liberal and, discouraged, Gene was ready to quit.  PeeWee encouraged him to at least finish that night of racing which Gene did.  That was all it took to get him hooked on driving.  He bought out PeeWee's share of their partnership and made some changes in the car to suit himself.

          In Gene’s next race on July 4, 1956 at the Grant County Fairgrounds in Ulysses, Kansas, he crashed into a tractor tire / infield marker on the first lap of the first race putting him out of competition for the night.

          In all, Gene drove the car in five racing programs but his racing career was off to a slow start.  He felt it had nowhere to go but up though.

          Click your mouse on the photo at right to see another view of the “Hoppen 8”. 

          Then  to see a different view of this car.

 

 

 

1956

 

          Gene drove this gray ’37 Ford in three racing programs for owner Charles Setters.  Then, on August 3, 1956 at Ulysses Kansas, Gene was involved in a crash in the heat race messing up the front suspension.  He refused to drive it that way so Setters got another driver to compete in the remaining races that night but that driver promptly crashed the car through a fence on the very first lap he drove it destroying the car.

 

 

 

1956

 

          Charles Setters and Gene then built this ’37 Ford and painted it green with silver lettering.  Gene finished the racing season driving this car and won his first race (a heat) on September 7, 1956 at Ulysses, Kansas.  His first feature race win also came in this car on September 23, 1956 at Larned, Kansas.  In all, he competed in nine racing programs in this car.  Besides Larned and Ulysses, they also raced at Liberal, Garden City, and Dodge City in Kansas.

 

 

 

1957

 

          Gene drove this Hudson owned by Verne Crusha of Liberal, Kansas competing in races at Ulysses and Liberal in Kansas and at Hooker, Oklahoma.  They competed in 34 racing programs that year and 82 individual races winning 23 of those.

 

 

 

1958

 

          This photo of Gene and car owner Clarice (Mrs. Glen) Palmer of Tyrone, Oklahoma was taken on April 27, 1958.  Gene drove the car at Larned, Kansas that afternoon placing third in his heat race and fifth in the B feature for total winnings of $8.88.

 

 

 

 

1958

 

          This photo was taken on May 6, 1958.  Gene's father-in-law, Ralph Miller, purchased this Hudson from the Acme Auto Salvage in Liberal, Kansas on that date and Gene drove it for him on 25 race dates at Hooker, Oklahoma and at Liberal, Ulysses, and Dodge City in Kansas through July 12, 1958 winning a total of $645.57 in prize money.

 

 

 

1958 – 1959

 

      Gene finished out the remainder of the 1958 racing season driving this car known as the “Purple People Eater”.  He also drove it through June 9, 1959.  He is shown here with the car’s owner, Pete Ansley of Adams, Oklahoma.  Gene drove this car in 26 racing programs at Hooker, Oklahoma and Ulysses and Liberal in Kansas winning a total $692.09 in prize money.  to see another view of this car.

 

 

 

1959

 

          Gene completed the remainder of the 1959 racing season driving this car owned by Merle "Rabbit" Trahern (left) of Sublett, Kansas on 17 race dates at Ulysses, Liberal, and Dodge City in Kansas and at Hooker, Oklahoma.  This was one of three jalopies that Trahern owned at the time.  Click your mouse on the photo to see another photo of all three of Trahern's jalopies parked together in the pits at Ulysses.  Clarence "Nut" Cokeley was the driver of #7, Trahern was the driver of #6, and the #21 pictured there is the same car pictured here that Gene drove.

 

 

 

1960

 

          Rule changes allowed jalopies to be cut down into “rails” so Pete Ansley of Adams, Oklahoma built this Hudson powered “rail” for Gene to drive in races at Liberal, Dodge City, Hutchinson, and Wichita in Kansas; Woodward, Oklahoma; and Amarillo, Texas.  They competed in 26 racing programs and won the points championship at Liberal that year.

 

 

 

1960 – 1961

 

          This photo was taken on August 28, 1960.  Bob Lorenz of WaKeeney, Kansas (left) had purchased the car from Merle Trahern that Gene drove the preceding year for Trahern.  Gene drove this car in six racing programs (three at Oakley and three at WaKeeney, Kansas) in 1960 when he was not driving the “rail” elsewhere for Pete Ansley.  He also drove this jalopy in five more programs (three at WaKeeney and two at Oakley) in 1961 racing both this car and the #17 “rail” owned by K. O. Christian in separate races in those programs.  Note that Lorenze removed the car's top as the rules at the northwest Kansas racetracks at that time did not require the cars to have tops.

 

 

 

1960 – 1961

 

          Gene drove this Hudson powered “rail” for owner K. O. Christian of Wichita, Kansas this season in 33 racing programs at Woodward, Oklahoma; Amarillo, Texas; and Liberal, Dodge City, Oakley, WaKeeney, Wichita, and Hutchinson in Kansas.  Gene also continued to drive the #21 jalopy (pictured above) for owner Bob Lorenz.

          Click your mouse on the photo to see a photo taken on June 18, 1960 of Gene and K. O. Christian poised with this car in a roadside park in northwest Kansas.

http://winfield.50megs.com/Hutch_Nationals/Cokeley/17_Gene_Coffman_1961.jpg

 

 

 

1962

 

          Gene owned and drove this “rail” in 10 racing programs at Topeka, Liberal, Oakley, WaKeeney, and Colby in Kansas as well as at Woodward, Oklahoma and Amarillo, Texas. 

 

 

 

1962

 

          Gene drove this “rail” owned by Bill Crites of Woodward, Oklahoma in two racing programs at Woodward.

 

 

 

1963

 

          Future National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee Jay Woodside of Wichita, Kansas raced this Gene Coffman owned Hudson powered “rail” once on May 5, 1963 at Oakley, Kansas. 

          Gene drove this “rail” in seven racing programs at Liberal, Stockton, and WaKeeney in Kansas and at Woodward, Oklahoma before rolling it five times on Memorial Day injuring his shoulder.  This photo of the car was taken after that crash.  He later sold the car only salvaging the engine.

          Click your mouse on the photo to see another photo of Gene looking on as Woodside was preparing to drive the car at Oakley.

 

 

 

1963

 

          Gene acquired this car in June of 1963 to race for the remainder of the season but his injured shoulder prevented him from doing so.

 

 

 

1963

 

          Race promoter Jack Merrick assigned new car numbers to registered car owners and Gene was assigned #72.  With his shoulder still bothering him, he took Merrick’s advice and got Bill Rigsby of Wichita, Kansas to drive this car for him in three racing programs in July of 1963.

 

 

 

1964

 

          Gene had surgery on his shoulder in December of 1963 and then built this car for the 1964 racing season.  Jack Merrick assigned Gene the #19 and he raced it at Liberal, Kansas on June 30, 1964.  Gene then had Charlie Hiner drive the car at Liberal on July 14, 1964.  Gene drove the car again himself at Liberal on August 4, 1964 only to destroy the car receiving several minor injuries and reinjuring his shoulder when he rolled the car at least five times.

          Click your mouse on the photo to see one of Gene looking over what was left of the car the day after the crash.

 

 

 

 1965

 

          Gene took a hiatus from dirt track racing and built a couple of dragsters to compete in the D / Altered class in National Hot Rod Association (N.H.R.A.) sanctioned races at Garden City, Kansas.  Click your mouse on the photo to see another photo showing both dragsters.

 

 

 

1973

 

          Gene built micro-midgets for his sons to race.  Click your mouse on the photo to see another taken after he had made substantial modifications to this micro.

 

 

 

1977

 

          The opening of Ripper Raceway at Liberal, Kansas found Gene back on a dirt track racing this car against, among many others, his old teammate and good friend Clarence “Nut” Cokeley.

 

 

 

 

          Gene retired as a terminal shop supervisor from Air Products and Chemical in Liberal, Kansas c1993.  That gave him more time to spend on his hobby of restoring and showing old cars including a Volkswagen, a 1929 Model A, and later, a 1931 Model A five-window coupe.

          Gene had just moved form Plains, Kansas to Wichita when he was diagnosed with cancer in February of 1998.  He had begun restoration of the ’31 coupe when doctors told him that he only had about five weeks to live.  With his determination though, and a lot of help from his family, Gene was able to enter the completely restored car in a car show at Cheney, Kansas on Labor Day of that year taking the “Best of Show” award.

          Gene passed away on October 11, 1998 in Wichita and is buried in the Plains Cemetery at Plains, Kansas.

 

 

 

 

 

This web page is dedicated to

Donna Marie (Miller) Coffman

1936 - 1994

Without whose meticulous record keeping this web page would not be possible

 

 

 

  

 

 

Thank you

Roseann Coffman–Davis

 

 

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