William Ernest “Bill” Lehman

1907 - 1969

 

         

Bill Lehman advertising upcoming races at the Bo Stearns track north of Wichita, Kansas with his 1935 Pontiac three-window coupe

 

This is the earliest known photo of Bill Lehman’s midget.  That is Bill’s daughter, Wanda Lehman, standing in the seat c1938.

 

 

Bill Lehman in his midget.  Click your mouse on the photo to see a different photo of him in the same midget.

 

Bill Lehman in his midget at the Bo Stearns track north of Wichita, Kansas in 1939

 

Bill and Edith Lehman with the 1941 Pontiac that Bill drove.  This was the first new model that Bill raced c1949.

  

Bill Lehman in his 1941 Pontiac #41 in 1950 while his new Pontiac was on order

 

Bill Lehman’s 1941 Pontiac #41 after he rolled it in a race at Salina, Kansas in 1950.

 

Bill Lehman’s son, Kenny, pitting for his father from atop the stage in the infield at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson c1950

 

Bill Lehman in his new Wat-Henry-sponsored 1950 Pontiac “Coffee Cup” in 1950.  Click your mouse on the photo above to view another photo taken at the same time and place.

 

Bill Lehman and his Wat-Henry sponsored 1950 Pontiac in 1950.  Click your mouse on the photo to see another of him posing in this car to get his picture taken.

 

Bill Lehman and his Wat-Henry sponsored 1950 Pontiac in 1950

 

Bill Lehman’s 1950 Pontiac #51 parked  behind the grandstand at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson c1950

 

Bill Lehman’s 1950 Pontiac #51 parked in the pits with several other unidentified I.M.C.A. new model stock cars at an unidentified racetrack c1951

 

Bill Lehman drove this car owned by Gayford Dye of Hutchinson in an I.M.C.A. new model stock car race in South Dakota c1952

 

The 1950 Pontiac “Coffee Cup” after Bill rolled just outside of Abbyville, Kansas c1953

 

Bill Lehman with son Kenny and the Johnny-Sutton-owned 1951Hudson Hornet #13 in 1953.

 

Bill Lehman with the Johnny-Sutton-owned #13 Hudson Hornet during a break in the action at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in 1953

 

Bill and Edith Lehman at Mohawk Speedway at Hutchinson in 1956.

 

Bill Lehman was born on October 25, 1907 at Nickerson, Kansas, a son of Phares J. Lehman (1878-1949) and Rhoda Margaret (Wilson) Lehman (1880-1955).  He was married to Della Edith Woods (also from Nickerson) in 1933 at Miami, Oklahoma.  He became a carpenter by trade and built several houses in Hutchinson, Kansas.  He also owned a self-service laundry in Hutchinson.

 

The first known auto race that Lehman participated in was a non-sanctioned outlaw stock car race at the Bo Stearns racetrack north of Wichita, Kansas on September 26, 1937.  The 100-mile event was promoted by Capt. Billy Sink.  Lehman drove his 1935 Pontiac street car in these races and managed to stay near the lead until trouble near the midpoint in the race forced him to drop out.  The race was won by Les Winget of Hutchinson who was driving a Plymouth.

 

The next known race that Lehman participated in was another outlaw event put on by H. P. Guizlo on September 18, 1938 on a 1/5 mile racetrack specially built for the purpose around the Summers Field baseball diamond at Emporia, Kansas.  Over 400 spectators attended that event.  Lehman’s midget was powered by an Indian motorcycle engine.  Lehman was declared the winner of the 15-lap feature race as his was the only midget still running at the end of the event.

 

Lehman became one of the charter members of the Midwest Racing Association (M.R.A.) formed in Hutchinson late in 1938.  That group built a 1/5 mile dirt oval racetrack around the stage in front of the grandstand at the Kansas State Fairgrounds and lighted it for night racing.

 

Lehman won a 10-lap heat race in his midget in a time of 1:58 while competing with M.R.A. on the Hutchinson 1/5 mile racetrack on May 10, 1939.

 

Lehman won another 10-lap heat race in his midget racing on that racetrack with M.R.A. on May 28, 1939.

 

Lehman won still another 10-lap heat race and finished second in the 25-lap feature race behind D. A. Clem of Wichita in a M.R.A. midget race in Hutchinson on May 31, 1939.

 

Lehman participated in another M.R.A. midget race run before well over 1,000 local fans on the Bo Stearns track north of Wichita, Kansas on August 6, 1939 where he drove his midget #5.

 

On September 3, 1939, Lehman won both the third 10-lap heat race and a 6-lap, 3-car match race at a M.R.A. sanctioned midget race promoted by Gail Arthur “Bo” Bocock on the new 1/5 mile Meridian Speedway in Wichita.

 

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1939, what has been described as a small crowd saw Emmett Taylor of Wichita set a new 3-lap track record on the 1/10-mile indoor racetrack at the Agricultural Hall in Salina, Kansas.  Taylor then installed Bill Lehman in the driver's seat of his famous Ford V8-60 midget #C4.  Lehman drove the car to victory in the first 10-lap heat race and won a 3-car match race.  On the first lap of the 40-lap feature race, Lehman was involved in a 3-car pileup with cars driven by Jimmy Stallman of Hutchinson and Vern Rittger of Salina resulting in Stallman's car landing on top of Lehman's and Stallman's spinning wheels just inches from Lehman's head.  All escaped without injury.  The program had been promoted by Frank Murphy of Wichita.

 

Bill Lehman with his 1941 Pontiac #41 and a 6-ply tire that he often used on the right front

 

 After a stint in the service during World War II, Lehman returned to Hutchinson where he raced his midget several times on the 1/5 mile racetrack.  He also acquired a 1941 Pontiac and began competing in the newly popular “new model” races around the Midwest as car #41.

 

In 1949, the International Motor Contest Association (I.M.C.A.) added a new model stock car division (later known as late model stock cars) and Lehman became the first to compete with a Pontiac in that division.  He finished eleventh before 8,000 fans in a 200-lap I.M.C.A. new model stock car race promoted Virgil C. Miller of Hutchinson at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on July 4, 1949.  That race was won by Bob McKim of Salina, Kansas in a 1949 Oldsmobile 88.  McKim had been the winner of the first I.M.C.A. new model stock car race ever run just one month earlier.

 

Lehman then finished seventh before 1,500 fans in a 100-lap new model stock car race promoted by Verne Hamilton at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson on July 17, 1949.  That race paid out only a $500 purse and was won by Jim Roper of Halstead, Kansas in a Lincoln.  Roper had also won the first N.A.S.C.A.R. “Strictly Stock” (now known as “Sprint Cup”) race ever run less than one month earlier at Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

On July 31, 1949, Lehman finished second to Bob McKim of Salina, Kansas who was driving a 1949 Oldsmobile 88 in another Verne-Hamilton-promoted 100-lap new model stock car race at the Kansas State Fairgrounds that paid out only a $500 purse.

 

More than 10,000 people saw Lehman compete in a 200-lap stock car race at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on Labor Day, 1949 but the racetrack was very rough and he had to drop out when a wheel broke.  He was just one of a number of competitors who suffered that fate and was credited with finishing in ninth place.  That race was won by Reuben Loepp of Hutchinson who drove a 1939 Ford with old style wide center wheels that were less prone to breaking.

 

Lehman was credited with finishing fourth after completing 196 laps of a scheduled 200-lap I.M.C.A. sanctioned race at the Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka, Kansas on October 2, 1949.  That race was won by Eddie Anderson of Grinnell, Iowa who was driving a 1949 Mercury.

 

Lehman began the year 1950 by racing a micro-midget #51 with the Southwest Association of Micro-Midgets (S.W.A.M.M.) but his primary focus was on new model car racing.  He competed in an I.M.C.A. new model stock car race at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on May 14, 1950 that was promoted by Verne Hamilton.  No record has been located showing where he finished in the feature race won by Bob Thorne of Dallas, Texas that day but 4,000 fans saw him finish fourth in the second 10-lap heat race which was also won by Thorne.

 

He competed in a new model race in Tulsa, Oklahoma late that spring and met Wat W. Henry who owned a Tulsa Pontiac dealership.  The two men talked after the races and wound up putting together a deal for Lehman to order a 1950 Pontiac business coupe from the factory.  Having the new car ordered turned out to be fortunate as Lehman rolled his 1941 Pontiac in a race at Salina, Kansas before the new car came in.

 

The 1950 Pontiac was delivered in June of that year and Lehman entered it as car #2 in a 100-mile I.M.C.A. sanctioned new model race at the Mid-America Free Fairgrounds in Topeka, Kansas on July 4th.  Lehman ran the race nonstop without any pit stops and won by a slim margin over the 1948 Nash driven by Herschel Buchanan of Shreveport, Louisiana.  Buchanan went on the win the I.M.C.A. new model national championship that year as well as the next.  For his victory at Topeka, Lehman collected $450 from the purse plus $197 in lap money having led all but three laps of the event.  He named the car “Coffee Cup” after the Coffee Cup Café in Topeka.

 

Lehman had wanted to race the Wat-Henry-sponsored Pontiac as #50.  Verna Winkley, wife of the race promoter Frank Winkley and the chief scorer of the event, would not allow it so he changed the number to 51.  It seems that Mrs. Winkley had an assistant call out the car numbers as they passed the judge’s stand and, if the assistant paused even just slightly, that would cause car number “51” to become “50----1”.  In such cases, Mrs. Winkley would have already scored the car as #50 and would be waiting for the next car number to be called.  She would then have to go back and change the scoring record to #51.  If there were no car #50, then she would know to wait for the second number to be called out.

 

Bill Lehman with his 1950 Pontiac #51 when his sponsor was the Menu Café in Hutchinson, Kansas.

 

On July 16, 1950, Lehman entered his Wat-Henry sponsored 1950 Pontiac #51 in an unsanctioned 150-lap race for new model stock cars on a one-mile paved oval laid out on parallel runways connected by temporary dirt corners at the Army airbase at Herington, Kansas.  He turned the one-mile course in 58.08 in time trials that being the 16th fastest of the 29 cars that took time trials that day.  It is known that Lehman started the 150-lap race on the inside of the ninth row and that 28 cars took the green flag with 20 cars finishing that race won by Bob McKim but it is currently unknown in what position Lehman would up in that day.

 

Lehman’s next race was an I.M.C.A. race for new model stock cars on the half-mile racetrack at the Taylor County Fairgrounds at Bedford, Iowa on July 25, 1950.  Rain fell on race morning and the muddy racetrack persuaded race officials to cut the heat race distances in half.  Lehman finished third in the first seven-lap heat race behind Rocky Reynolds of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Tiny Lund of Harlan, Iowa.  No records have been located indicating where Lehman finished in the 11-car, 15-lap feature won by Rocky Reynolds of Minneapolis, Minnesota who was driving an Oldsmobile 88.

 

Lehman entered an I.M.C.A. race at Rapid Speedway located at the Lyon County Fairgrounds at Rock Rapids, Iowa on August 13, 1950.  No record has been located of how he finished in the feature that day but he did win a three-mile race in 3:01.45 which was a new record for that distance for I.M.C.A. new model stock cars.  The feature was won by Mickey McCormick of Hutchinson, Kansas who was driving an Oldsmobile.

 

On August 22, 1950, Lehman ran the fifth fastest time in time trials of 36.1 seconds on the half-mile dirt oval at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds at Albert Lea, Minnesota.  These races were also sanctioned by I.M.C.A.  He then finished third in the first heat race behind Art Combs of Emporia, Kansas and Marvin Sams of Montezuma, Iowa.  The 25-lap feature race was won by Eddie Anderson of Grinnell, Iowa.

 

Lehman turned in a time trial of 38.42 in time trials before 3,500 fans at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on Labor Day, 1950.  That was the seventh fastest time run by the 22 competitors entered.  Lehman then started outside of the third row of the six-car first heat race and finished fourth.  That race was won by Norman Horn of Great Bend, Kansas.  Lehman started on the outside of the fourth row in the 13-car, 50-lap feature event but it is currently unknown where he finished in that race which was won by Jim Roper.

 

Lehman won the 8-lap Australian pursuit race at the Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka, Kansas on September 11, 1950 and then came back to finish fifth in the 25-lap feature race won by Fred South of Salina, Kansas.

 

On September 17, 1950, Lehman was one of eighteen drivers to enter an unsanctioned 150-lap new model stock car race promoted by Verne Hamilton at the Kansas State Fairgrounds.  He ran a lap of 37.86 in time trials which was the third fastest effort of the day and earned him the inside second row starting spot in the feature event.  He finished the race in fourth place before 15,000 spectators, five laps behind winner Fred South of who was driving a Mercury.

 

On September 20, 1950, Lehman entered another Verne Hamilton promoted race for new model stock cars at the Kansas State Fairgrounds.  He ran a time trials of 36.12 which was the twelfth fastest of the 20 cars entered.  He then started on the outside of the third row in the 8 car, 10-lap second heat race and finished fifth in the race won by Rodney Clark of Wichita, Kansas.  He then started on the outside of the fifth row in the 16-car, 50-lap feature race and finished in sixth place.  That race was won by Bob McKim in a 1949 Oldsmobile 88 before 14,000 racing fans.  After the race, Lehman filed an official protest of the second place finishing car driven by Fred South.  Race officials ruled that engine in South’s Mercury was equipped with oversized pistons and disqualified the car moving Lehman’s Pontiac up to fifth place in the official race results.

 

Lehman’s successful, although limited, racing season with I.M.C.A. in 1950 still placed him third in the organization’s final points tally behind championship winner Herschel Buchanan of Shreveport, Louisiana and runner-up Wally Dahl of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

Lehman decided to race full time with I.M.C.A. in 1951 which meant that he could not run in any of the local events around Hutchinson unless they were run on days when I.M.C.A. was not competing anywhere.  Lehman was required to honor the other I.M.C.A. dates even if he were not entered in those particular races or they were nowhere near Hutchinson.  His I.M.C.A. driver’s license in 1951 was #2066 and the I.M.C.A. car registration for the 1950 Pontiac #51 that year was #1155.

 

One of the I.M.C.A. new model stock car races that Lehman competed in was a 90-minute marathon run at the Oklahoma Free State Fairgrounds at Muskogee, Oklahoma on April 22, 1951.  No record has been found as to where Lehman placed in this event that was won by Bobby Tucker of Springfield, Missouri.  Tucker completed 121 laps in the allotted time.

 

Lehman competed in a 90-minute I.M.C.A. sanctioned marathon run at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on May 13, 1951.  He timed in seventeenth fastest of the 23 drivers that participated that day, with a one-lap time of 37.09 seconds.  That was 2,24 seconds slower than the fastest time of the day which was turned in by Frank Lower of Omaha, Nebraska.  Lehman’s Pontiac stopped on the racetrack when his accelerator rod snapped in the marathon race and he was credited with finishing in fourteenth place.  That race was won by John "Chug" Montgomery of Lebanon, Missouri who covered 143 laps in the time allotted.

 

Bill Lehman in his 1950 Pontiac #51 at the Cloud County Fairgrounds at Concordia, Kansas on October 14, 1951. 

Lehman started nineteenth and finished fifteenth 25 laps behind winner Bill Harrison of Topeka, Kansas who was driving a 1949 Plymouth in the 200-lap I.M.C.A. new model stock car race at the North Iowa Fairgrounds at Mason City, Iowa on May 27, 1951.  4,000 spectators witnessed that event.

 

On June 10, 1951, Lehman finished in sixth place in a 90-minute I.M.C.A. sanctioned marathon at the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Herschel Buchanan of Shreveport, Louisiana was able to cover 158 laps in his Nash for the victory that day. 

 

Lehman finished in fifth place in a 90-minute I.M.C.A. sanctioned marathon race at the Mid-America Fairgrounds in Topeka, Kansas on July 4, 1951.  Bill Harrison of Topeka, Kansas won that event.

 

On August 31, 1951, Lehman finished in eighth place in a 100-mile I.M.C.A. sanctioned race on the Belleville High Banks at the Republic County Fairgrounds at Belleville, Kansas.  Lehman drove a Ford that day which was probably owned by Gayford Dye of Hutchinson, Kansas.  Bob McKim got the victory that day.  No record has been located to date listing any other I.M.C.A. races that Lehman competed in during 1951.

 

Lehman did race on an open I.M.C.A. date in an unsanctioned race for new model stock cars at the Cloud County Fairgrounds at Concordia, Kansas on October 14, 1951.  The race was promoted by L. A. Ward of Concordia but it is unknown how Lehman finished that day.  He did manage to finish 42nd in the final driver points standing with I.M.C.A. that year with 400 markers.

 

On May 13, 1952, Lehman entered a 90-minute marathon for new model stock cars at the Kansas State Fairgrounds that was promoted by Frank Winkley and sanctioned by I.M.C.A.   Lehman ran a time trial of 37.09 which was twelfth fastest of 19 cars entered.  The leaders were able to cover 143 laps in the allotted time.  John "Chug" Montgomery of Lebanon, Missouri won the race but it is currently unknown where Lehman finished.

 

Verne Hamilton put on a new model stock car race before a small crowd at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on Memorial Day, 1952.  Lehman finished second behind Jim Ware of Hutchinson in the first of three 25-lap races run that day.  He then placed sixth in the third 25-lap race which was won by Jim Roper driving a 1949 Packard.

 

Lehman’s Wat-Henry-sponsored Pontiac was the eighth fastest car in time trials at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on July 4, 1952.  5,000 watched as he finished fourth in a 25-lap heat race won by Frank Black of Ft. Worth, Texas who was driving a 1947 Ford.  It is not known if Lehman competed in the feature that day as, although he had qualified to do so, his name does not appear in newspaper accounts of that race.  Frank Black won that event as well.

 

Lehman competed in a 300-lap new model stock car race promoted by Verne Hamilton at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on Labor Day, 1952 but it is unknown how he finished in that event that was witnessed by a crowd of 5,969.  The total purse that day was $2,500 of which winner Jim Roper collected $1,000 having driven an Oldsmobile 88.

 

After the 1952 season, the Wat-Henry-sponsored 1950 Pontiac was retired to become the Lehman family car.  On a trip to Abbyville, Kansas, Bill rolled it on a curve just outside of town sending “Coffee Cup” into permanent retirement.

 

By the Memorial Day, 1953 new model stock car races at the Kansas State Fairgrounds, Lehman had picked up a ride driving a former Jim Ware owned and driven 1951 Hudson Hornet #51 by then owned by Johnny Sutton of Hutchinson.  4,000 spectators saw Lehman finish second in the first 25-lap heat race won by Bill Wesley of Hutchinson.  Lehman then led the first 75 laps of the 100-lap feature race before a rod started knocking in the Hudson’s engine.  He stopped to add water and oil but made only one more lap before withdrawing from the race with a rod hanging out through the side of the engine block.  Bill Massey of Hutchinson won that race driving a taxi cab belonging to the McVay Taxi Cab Company of Hutchinson.

 

Feeling that his Hudson was jinxed, Sutton changed the car’s number to #13 and painted the car bright orange with images of black cats on the doors.  A fresh engine and the Johnny Sutton 1951 Hudson Hornet was ready to compete before 5,000 spectators in a 200-lap new model stock car race promoted by Verne Hamilton at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on July 4, 1953.  With just eight laps remaining in the race, Lehman was running in third place three laps behind leader Dan Berghaus of Meade, Kansas driving a 1940 Ford when Lehman crashed the Hudson Hornet into the outside fence in the south turn.   The incident regulated Lehman to fourth place by the end of the race but Berghaus refused to allow officials to do a post race inspection of his engine so he was disqualified.  That moved Lehman up to third place in the final standings behind the Oldsmobile of official winner Jim Smith of Salina and Gayford Dye of Hutchinson who was driving a Plymouth.

 

Lehman also competed before 5,000 people in a new model stock car race at the Kansas State Fairgrounds on Labor Day, 1953.  He finished second in the second 20-lap heat race behind Jim Roper which qualified him to run in the 100-lap feature race that day but no record has been located showing how he did in that event won by Troy Routh of Maize, Kansas in a 1948 Ford coupe.

 

The last race that Lehman is known to have competed in was a new model stock car race run September 20, 1953 during the Kansas State Fair.  He finished eighth in the 100-lap feature race in front of 15,000 fans that day seven laps behind winner Bill King of Enid, Oklahoma.

 

By 1955, Verne Hamilton and partner Eber Higgins began promoting races at the Garfield County Fairgrounds at Enid, Oklahoma to go along with races that Hamilton was already promoting at the Kansas State Fairgrounds.  Lehman became the flagman and official starter for their races while his son, Kenny, worked as a pit steward.  Bill Lehman flagged from the racetrack surface in those days and one night in 1956, he did not like the looks of a start at Enid so he did not wave the green flag.  Three cars near the back of the pack did not realize that it was a false start and passed the field on the inside all three thus running over Lehman seriously injuring him.

 

After serving a stint in the service, Kenny Lehman returned home in 1960 and assumed his father’s flagging duties so Bill Lehman retired.

 

Bill Lehman passed away from cancer at Hutchinson on August, 28, 1969 and is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery at Hutchinson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the photographs on this web page are from the Lehman family collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to:

Kenny Lehman and Darrin McKim

 

 

 

William Ernest Lehman

William Lehman 

 

 

 

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