Grove Travis “Jack” Merrick

1914 – 1977

 

U.M.C.A. Officials in 1954

Back row, left to right:  Bob McKim, Les Ward.  Front row, left to right: Art Thomas, Emmett Taylor, Jack Merrick

Larry Merrick collection

 

Jack Merrick was born January 5, 1914 at Belpre, Kansas, a son of Andrew Martin Merrick (1889-1955) and Alta V. (Speaks) Mdrrick (1893-1978).  He spent World War II as a flight instructor in the Army Air Corps and then moved to Dodge City, Kansas in 1947 where he took a job as a wholesale liquor salesman for the Colby Liquor Distributorship.

 

He started his career as an auto racing promoter in 1949 with his first such venture being a race for “new model stock cars” at the old Dodge City airbase.  Before long, he was promoting hot rod races at dusty fairgrounds racetracks all over western Kansas.

 

UMCA Banquet - October 3, 1954 - Wichita, KS

Seated, Front Row, left to right:  Jim Curley, Ralph Wallace, Duke Westerhaus, Jim Wegscheider, Mickey McCormick, Cotton Musick

Standing, Back Row, left to right:  Paul Pierson, Art Alexander, Emmett Taylor, Bob Murra, Marvin Church, Buddy Quick, Chet Wilson, Walt McWhorter, Jerry Shumaker, Fred Bowers

Emmett Taylor collection

 

By 1951, Merrick was trying to convince the owners of the hot rods that raced for him to convert their cars over to big cars (now known as sprint cars).  The following year, he assembled a group of men to form the United Motor Contest Association (U.M.C.A.).  Ernie Powell of Hutchinson, Kansas was elected as the first president of U.M.C.A. while Merrick was officially elected as Secretary but everyone knew from the outset that it was Merrick who was in charge.

 

Lloyd Walender won the first U.M.C.A. big car race which was run at Oberlin, Kansas in 1952.  Over the next few years, the Nebraska Hot Rod Racing Association (N.H.R.R.A.) would merge with U.M.C.A. and sanction races at Abilene, Dodge City, Norton, Oakley, Colby, WaKeeney, La Crosse, Hoisington, Russell, Great Bend, Larned, Garden City, Liberal, Scott City, Concordia, Belleville, Hutchinson and Wichita all in Kansas plus Holdrege and North Platte in Nebraska; Holyoke and Canon City in Colorado; and Enid, Tulsa and Oklahoma City.  Under the U.M.C.A. banner, Merrick also sanctioned jalopy races at Dodge City, Liberal, and Larned in Kansas until he formed the separate Merrick Racing Promotions (M.R.P) for that purpose in 1956.

 

U.M.C.A. Winter Meeting

Only ones identified so far:  Back row standing:  5th from left is Chet Wilson; 6th from left is Marvin Church; 7th from left is Duke Westerhaus; 8th from left is
Bob Murra; 10th from left is Vernis Church; 11th from left is A. J. Shepherd; 15th from left is Les Ward.

Second row seated:  5th from left is Bob McKim; 6th from left is Orval Beckel; 7th from left is Buddy Quick; 2nd from right is Cotton Musick.

 Front row squatting:  Left is Walt McWhorter; 4th from left is Jack Merrick and Jerry Shumaker is at right.

 If you can identify any of the others, please contact Bob Lawrence

Larry Merrick collection

 

U.M.C.A. thrived until 1957 when Merrick, Ray Lavely, O. L. Douglas, Jim Collins, Verne Hamilton and Eber Higgins banded together to organize what was billed as the First Annual Grand National Jalopy Championship Races which were run on the quarter-mile racetrack at Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City.  Bolstered by the success of that event, Merrick assumed control of the Grand National Jalopy Championship Races and scheduled the Second Annual National Jalopy Championship Races at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson for the last weekend of July of 1958.  Under M.R.P., Merrick also began supervising the auto races run during the Kansas State Fair.

 

Merrick’s roll in the races themselves was that of public address announcer.  He had a gift of gab and of showmanship that would keep the crowd entertained even when there was a shortage of entries and maybe only six or seven races on the card.  On such occasions, Merrick would have each driver bring his car onto the racetrack one at a time to be introduced for the next race.  No matter who the driver was or what his experience in the sport was, Merrick would claim that he was a champion of something from somewhere or other and go on to tell about some of his supposed exploits even though the driver may never even have raced before.  Next, Merrick would tell about the car and its storied history in the sport.  All the time, Merrick was building suspense for how this next race would turn out with such a quality field of cars and drivers entered.

 

U.M.C.A. Officials

Bob McKim at left and Jack Merrick at right.  Please contact Bob Lawrence if you can identify either of the other two men.

Larry Merrick collection

 

Jack Merrick, his wife, Esther; and their son Larry continued to make their home in Dodge City and considered McCarty Speedway in Wright Park to be their home racetrack.  The stadium had been built as a W.P.A. project in the 1930s and hosted horse races and rodeos until Merrick assumed the promoter duties there in 1952.  He promoted some motorcycle races and big car races on the half-mile racetrack there before building a quarter-mile racetrack in the center of the larger racetrack to run jalopy and midget races on.

 

In 1966, the smaller racetrack was enlarged to three-eighths mile and Merrick continued to put on modified stock car and super modified races there every Saturday night during the summer months.

 

U.M.C.A. Officials in 1955

Left to right:  Jack Merrick, Emmett Taylor, and Bob McKim

Larry Merrick collection

 

Under M.R.P., Merrick continued promoting races at McCarty Speedway and at the Kansas State Fairgrounds until he passed away suddenly on October 27, 1977.

 

After Jack Merrick’s death, C. Ray Hall’s Speedways Inc. of Wichita assumed promotion of the races at the Kansas State Fairgrounds including the annual races that were by then known as the National Modified Championship Auto Races.  Esther Merrick and son Larry continued to operate the racetracks at Dodge City and Liberal through the 1978 season.  Larry became the public address announcer and fans were surprised when they heard his voice as he sounded almost exactly like his father.

 

In 1979, Speedways Inc. took on promotion of the races at Liberal and the Merricks cut back to just promoting races at Dodge City.

 

Logo designed for Jack Merrick by Frank Garcia

Cokeley collection

 

Stock car racer Joe Early took over promotion of the races at McCarty Speedway in 1980 and did not run any open wheel races at the track for two years.  At the end of the 1982 season, Joe announced he would not seek another year of contract with the City.

 

In 1982, Ed Beckley, who was motorcycle stuntman and also a pit crew man for drivers like Roy Bryant, took over the promotion of the races at McCarty Speedway.  Beckley put on races there until 1990 when the City awarded the racetrack to a group of promoters who bid more and promised the City many improvements.  In less than two complete seasons they were out of business and the track was left closed for one year.

 

With no promoter the track was closed in the middle of the 1992 season and all the 1993 season.  Racers and the City rallied and went to Beckley.  He accepted the City’s offer to run the races again with the up-front notice that he would he would only be there one year.  Beckley cleaned up the old stadium, and got the racetrack back in shape by building the banking up and adding new clay; all this with only 12 races promised.  "I loved that place and it was my dedication to the way it should be and I always felt like I had Jack Merrick looking over my shoulder," said Beckley.

 

Merrick Racing Promotions Banquet – October 15, 1958 – Dodge City, KS

Those who have been identified so far:

Front row squatting left to right: Esther Merrick, Floyd “Dutch” Davis, Lee Salmans, Ted Kreger, Duane Caldwell, and Jack Merrick.

Second row standing left to right: Clarence “Nut” Cokeley, Stanley Trahern, Kenneth Gillette, James “Ace” Noland, Donna Noland, Johnny Thomas, Cliff Schriner, Bob Salem, Gene Potts, Nelson Carlson, Don Shumard, and Bob Murphy.

Back row standing left to right: Unidentified, Elmer “Shorty” Adams, Carl Caldwell, Richard Dougherty , unidentified, unidentified, Wilbur Dirks, Duane Hornbaker, Herman Dirks and unidentified.

If you can identify anyone else in this photo, please contact Bob Lawrence.

Cokeley collection

The 1994 season was short but very successful.  Nearly every event was sold out and the track gained National praise through National Speed Sport News.  At the end of the 1994 season Beckley moved to Texas and began promoting Monster Truck shows and has become one of the largest Monster Truck promoters in the World.  With Beckley leaving town and the City Commissioners had no opposition to going ahead with their goal to remove racetrack with the premise to enlarge Wright Park and the Zoo.  It was a sad day when the dozers started leveling the banks and destroying one of the best racetracks in the country.

 

 Cokeley collection

 

Later, in anticipation of the New Dodge City Raceway Park that opened in 2000, the city razed the McCarty Speedway grandstand.  The Zoo was never enlarged nor was Wright Park.  Part of turn three is still there today and can be seen while driving past the site of the old stadium.  It serves as the only monument of the old racetrack that gained national exposure and was the home of many champions.

 

Ellamay Esther (Batt) Merrick passed away on May 28, 1996 and is buried beside husband Jack in Maple Grove Cemetery in Dodge City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

M.R.P. Officials and Employees in 1973

Shown seated in the front seat of the car are Jack and Esther Merrick

Larry Merrick collection

                                                                                                                          

 

                                                                                              

  

 

Thank you to:

Ed Beckley, Will Cokeley, Larry Merrick, Johnny and Hazel Thomas

 

 

 

 

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