“The Flip Kid”
Jesse Arthur “Art” Combs
Pioneer New Model Stock Car Driver
October 29, 1949 – Page 8
Art Combs was born on Christmas Day 1921, in a farm house nestled on the banks of the Neosho River between Council Grove and Emporia in East-Central Kansas. He lived life precariously, always seeking out that which was different or unusual. In that pursuit, he took up stock car racing at the age of 28. Combs was a farmer but found plenty of time to get away so he traveled to various racetracks all around the Midwest to compete. The following is an incomplete summary of those adventures:
The first race that he competed in was at the Dickinson County Fairgrounds racetrack in Abilene, Kansas. He soon learned that he preferred driving new model stock cars rather than the jalopies that were popular at the time. The new model drivers were a more gentlemanly bunch as compared to jalopy drivers who often preferred to root their way through traffic on the racetrack. He did own a jalopy for awhile but got Warren Brown of Emporia, Kansas to drive that for him while Combs concentrated his driving abilities on the new model stock cars.
Combs and fellow Emporia racing driver Rodney Clark also tried their hand at race promotion when they put on a 100-lap new model stock car race at the Burlington Fairgrounds at Burlington, Kansas on October 30, 1949.
Combs gave up farming and purchased a Universal Oil service station in Emporia. His racing kept him on the road so much that he had to hire a man to run it for him.
On May 21, 1950, Combs entered his 1949 Oldsmobile #14 in an unsanctioned new model stock car race on the half-mile racetrack at the Dickson County Fairgrounds in Abilene, Kansas. He turned in a time of 34.82 in time trials which was eighth fastest of the 11 cars entered that day. He started on the outside of the second row and finished in second place in the second 25-lap heat race. He then started on the outside of the fourth row in the 100-lap feature race and finished in fourth place. That race was won by Jim Smith of Dallas, Texas.
The next race that Combs competed in was a new model stock car race run on May 28, 1950 on a one-mile paved oval laid out on parallel runways connected by temporary dirt corners at the Army airbase at Herington, Kansas. Those concrete straightaways at Herington were the only pavement racing that Combs ever did. He turned in the fourth fastest time of 57.00 in time trials of the 16 cars entered.
On June 11, 1950, Combs entered his 1949 Oldsmobile #14 in non-sanctioned new model stock car races on the half-mile racetrack at the Clay County Fairgrounds at Clay Center, Kansas. He turned a lap in 36.29 in time trials which was eighth fastest of the 17 entries that day. He started third of the 13 cars that started the 100-lap feature and finished in second place though a full lap behind winner Bob McKim of Salina, Kansas.
On June 18, 1950, Combs turned in the third quickest time of 1:26.59 in time trials of the eleven new model stock cars entered in unsanctioned races at on the 1.6 mile paved oval racetrack at the municipal airport at Pratt, Kansas. Combs then started third and finished in second place in the 72-lap feature race in his new 1950 Oldsmobile #14 behind Norman Horn of Great Bend, Kansas.
Art Combs with one of his 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 new model stock cars c1950. He owned several such Oldsmobiles during his racing career feeling they were the “hottest car available”. His cars sported several different numbers and paint schemes during that time – Gentry photo from the Art Combs collection
On July 9, 1950, a crowd of 33,553 watched Combs compete in a new model stock car race sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (A.A.A.) that was run on the “Milwaukee Mile” at West Allis, Wisconsin. That contest was for 150-laps around the one-mile dirt oval and Combs started 17th in the field of 26 cars. Myron Fohr of Milwaukee, who had competed in his second Indy “500” just six weeks earlier, won the event. Combs’ new 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 #63 finished in fourth place on the lead lap behind the second and third place cars driven by Norm Nelson and Andy Granatelli. For his effort, he collected $1,301 from the $13,884 purse. Other Indy “500” veterans in the field that day were Tony Bettenhausen, Sr.; Jim Rathmann; Paul Russo; Pat Flaherty; and Dick Rathmann.
On July 16, 1950, Combs returned to the paved oval at the Herington, Kansas airport turning in the second fastest time of the day in time trials with a one-lap effort of 55.84 among the 29 cars that took time that day. He then started on the outside of the front row in the 28-car starting field in his 1950 Oldsmobile #14. It is known that twenty cars finished the non-sanctioned race and that it was won by Bob McKim but there is no known record where Combs finished it.
On July 23, 1950, Combs was one of 19 drivers to entered a 50-mile race sanctioned by the International Motor Contest Association (I.M.C.A.) on the half-mile dirt racetrack at the old Oklahoma State Park in Oklahoma City. He set the seventh quickest time in time trials in his #14 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 with a time of 36.50 seconds for one lap. Next, Combs started on the outside of the third row in the first heat race; a nine car event which he won. The fifth place finisher in that heat race was Jud Larson of Dallas, Texas who went on to compete twice in the Indy "500". Combs started the feature race in seventh place (due to his seventh fastest time trial. That was on the inside of the fourth row. By the sixth lap, Combs had moved up to third place behind his good friends, pole sitter Rodney Clark of Emporia, Kansas and Bob McKim. On the 85th lap, Combs moved past McKim to take over second place behind Clark and that is how they finished.
On August 24, 1950, Combs drove his Oldsmobile Rocket 88 in a 100-mile contest sanctioned by I.M.C.A. on the half-mile dirt racetrack at the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds at Sioux Falls, South Dakota where he finished in ninth place before 10,230 spectators. Wally Dahl of Minneapolis, Minnesota was the race winner that day.
Just three days later, Combs and his Oldsmobile Rocket 88 #14 raced to victory in a 100-lap contest sanctioned by I.M.C.A. on the half-mile dirt racetrack at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia. Combs covered the distance in 73 minutes, 6.04 seconds while Bob McKim and Rodney Clark finished second and third in the 20-car field. It is currently unknown what the victory paid Combs but the second place finisher received $350 from the purse.
On August 29, 1950, Combs ran a time of 28.05 in time trials at an unsanctioned event for new model stock cars on the Belleville High Banks racetrack at Belleville, Kansas that being the fourth quickest of the times turned in by the twelve cars entered that day. He started on the inside of the third row of the second 25-lap heat race and finished that event in third place. He then started on the outside of the second row of the 12-car, 100-lap feature race but it is currently unknown where he finished that race won by Rodney Clark of Emporia, Kansas.
Combs then finished second behind Art Lamey of Racine, Wisconsin in a 200-lap I.M.C.A. race run on September 1, 1950 on the on the half-mile Minnesota State Fairgrounds racetrack at Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
On Labor Day, September 4, 1950, Combs turned the fastest time in time trials of 35.20 at an I.M.C.A. race on the half-mile track at the North Iowa Fairgrounds at Mason City, Iowa. He then won a qualifying heat race which put him starting on the pole for the 200-lap feature race. He only lasted for 47 laps though before his car skidded out of control and crashed into the fence at the southwest corner of the racetrack. Alex Erickson of Minneapolis, Minnesota went on the win the feature race. Combs was credited with ninth place in the field of thirteen cars.
Art Combs taking evasive action to miss a competitor’s errant wheel during the 100-mile A.A.A. new model stock car race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds at Springfield on September 17, 1950. It is not known if he was able to miss the wheel or not – Bill Wiese photo from the Art Combs collection
Combs entered another I.M.C.A. race run on the half-mile dirt oval at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds in Lincoln on September 8, 1950. 21,000 people witnessed plenty of excitement that day as twenty cars circled the racetrack for 100 laps. Combs was challenging defending race winner Eddie Anderson of Grinnell, Iowa for the lead early in the race when he was involved in an accident that sidelined him for the remainder of that event. Wally Dahl was the eventual winner of the hotly contested spectacle.
Combs again tried his hand competing with A.A.A. when he entered a 100-mile race on the one-mile dirt oval at the Illinois State Fairgrounds at Springfield on September 17, 1950. No record has been located as to how he fared in that race won by Jay Frank in another 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88.
On September 20, 1950, Combs returned home to Kansas where he entered a non-sanctioned race run during the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson. A field of sixteen cars circled the half-mile dirt oval fifty times that day. At the end, Combs was in fourth place behind Fred South, Bob McKim, and Wally Dahl. A post-race inspection of South’s engine revealed it to be oversized so South was disqualified and everyone else was moved up one spot in the official finishing order.
1950 had literally been a year of ups and downs for Combs. Although he had some notable finishes, he also rolled his car on five occasions earning him the nickname “The Flip Kid”.
The next year found Combs on the road again, this time with his 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 carrying the #14 on the doors. His first race in 1951 was 90-minute marathon run at the Oklahoma Free State Fairgrounds at Muskogee, Oklahoma on April 22nd. No record has been found as to where he placed in this event that was won by Bobby Tucker. Tucker completed 121 laps in the allotted time.
On May 13, 1951, Combs entered a 90-minute marathon for new model stock cars at the Kansas State Fairgrounds and sanctioned by I.M.C.A. Combs time trial of 35.63 was the fourth quickest of the 19 drivers that participated that day and that allowed him to line up on the outside of the second row in the feature event. It is unknown where he finished in that race though.
He entered a 250-mile I.M.C.A. race on the 1.062 mile dirt oval at the Arlington Downs Raceway at Arlington, Texas on June 3, 1951. The race had to be cut to 200-laps (212.4 miles) due to darkness. Combs was declared the winner finishing ahead of second place Pat Kirkwood of Ft. Worth, Texas in a time of 4 hours, 28 minutes before 12,000 fans to collect $1,000 from the purse.
From Texas, it was north to the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where Combs competed in a 90-minute marathon race sanctioned by I.M.C.A. on June 10, 1951. Winner Herschel Buchanan of Shreveport, Louisiana was able to cover 158 laps on the half-mile dirt track before the allotted time was up. Combs dropped out of that race though so he headed for home to regroup his racing effort.
Art Combs in his 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 after winning the 200-lap I.M.C.A. new model stock car race by a full lap at the North Iowa Fairgrounds at Mason City on August 19, 1951 – Musser photo for the Globe-Gazette newspaper from the Art Combs collection
Back home in Emporia for a short time, Combs saw an opportunity to temporarily supplement his income by operating a floating taxi to ferry meat packing house workers across the swollen Cottonwood River so they could get to work. Combs was doing that on the afternoon of July 11, 1951 when he witnessed another boat snag some submerged telephone wires. Combs pulled alongside and tried to help the man get his boat untangled from the wires. That boat then capsized and started floating down stream entangling the 71-year-old occupant in the wires. Combs followed but had to take two passengers he already had on board to a nearby tree so he would have room to bring the elderly man into his boat. By then, the hapless man’s boat had lodged in the fork of a tree. Combs was able to reach him, dive under his boat, and secure the man to his own boat. By then, more boats had arrived on the scene. Combs untangle the man and was able to get him in one of the newly arrived boats but it was too late as the man did not survive. (Early in 1953, Combs was awarded a Carnegie Hero Fund bronze medal in recognition of his effort to save the man’s life.)
Combs entered an I.M.C.A. sanctioned event at the North Iowa Fairgrounds at Mason City, Iowa on August 15, 1951. The program that day consisted of heat races culminating with a thirteen-lap feature event on the half-mile dirt oval. It is unknown how he finished in his heat race but Combs started the thirteen-car feature race in fourth place and finished in fourth behind winner J.M. Wilson, Richard McDaniel, and Pat Kirkwood.
Combs’ next race was an I.M.C.A. sanctioned event on August 17, 1951 at the Steele County Fairgrounds at Owatonna, Minnesota. His 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 was running good that day as he won the 25-lap feature race.
On August 19, 1951, he entered an I.M.C.A. race at the North Iowa Fairgrounds at Mason City. He started fifth in a field of 21 cars and circled the half-mile dirt oval racetrack 200 times in 2 hours, 11 minutes to win the race a full lap ahead of second place finisher Charles Magnison who was driving a 1951 Hudson.
On August 23, 1951, Combs competed before more than 9,000 fans in a 100-mile I.M.C.A. sanctioned race on the half-mile dirt racetrack at the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds at Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He finished fifth that day behind winner Herschel Buchanan and his Nash.
On August 30, 1951, 21,047 fans saw Combs compete as one of the 33 starters in a 150-lap I.M.C.A. sanctioned race on the half-mile dirt track at the at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul. Combs was running in third place on the 45th lap when his left rear tire blew out and his Oldsmobile overturned. Wally Dahl went on the win the race.
Combs' next race was just nine days away so he looked his car over and decided to straighten out the bent up Oldsmobile himself. Later, he would say that had been a mistake. He could have purchased a new car for less money than what it cost to get that wrecked one back in running order.
Loading Art Combs’ 1950 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 after he crashed it. Click your mouse on the photo to see another taken after the car had been loaded up for the trip home – Photos from the Warren Brown collection
On September 8, 1951, Combs did race in the 100-lap I.M.C.A. race on the half-mile dirt racetrack at the Dakota State Fair Speedway at Huron, South Dakota. He turned in a time of 42.74 in time trials qualifying him to start 14th in a field of 16 cars but it is unknown how he finished in this race that was won by Chris Skadal of Des Moines, Iowa.
Combs’ next race was an I.M.C.A. sanctioned race for 150 laps around the half-mile dirt oval at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson on September 16, 1951. He time in at 39.52 which was fourth fastest of the seventeen qualifiers. Only fifteen cars started the feature event and Combs managed to finish in third place behind Eddie Anderson and Herschel Buchanan in front of 10,000 people.
On September 21, 1951, Combs returned to the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson for a 90-minute marathon that covered 146 laps in the time allotted. That event was sanctioned by I.M.C.A. but only 1,000 fans paid to attend. Combs qualified tenth fastest of the 24 cars entered with a time of 34.18. He then started the marathon on the outside of the sixth row but it is currently unknown where he finished the event although it was Eddie Anderson who covered the distance first followed by Herschel Buchanan.
On September 30, 1951, Combs was one of 35 drivers that competed in a 200-mile (188 lap) I.M.C.A. race on the 1.062 mile dirt oval at the Arlington Downs Raceway at Arlington, Texas. 7,000 spectators looked on as Combs held down second place behind eventual winner Dom "Shorty" Perlick of Minneapolis, Minnesota until the two leaders tangled in a corner. The collision damaged Combs' radiator forcing him to drop back and finish out of any of the 18 spots that paid money.
Combs competed in an I.M.C.A. race on July 23, 1952 at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He completed the event on the half-mile racetrack finishing second to Rodney Clark of Emporia, Kansas.
Combs entered a 200-lap I.M.C.A. sanctioned race on May 3, 1953 at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson where he finished fifth behind winner Gene Brown, Ernie Derr, Bill Harrison, and Ken Jones.
Combs entered a non-sanctioned race at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson on September 20, 1953. 15,000 people watched as he finished second to Bill Wesley of Liberal, Kansas in the second heat race. Combs then led the first 98 laps of the 100-lap feature race. Seeing a cloud of dust ahead and being afraid to drive into it at full throttle, he swerved to go around the cloud but crashed through the outside fence and rolled his Oldsmobile. He was not injured but Bill King of Enid, Oklahoma went on to win the race followed by Don Allen of Wichita, Kansas. The 98 laps that Combs had completed before the accident was good enough to place him in third place in the final standings.
Later, he became a truck driver for the Santa Fe Trail Transportation Company in Emporia before moving to Wichita, Kansas in 1953. He continued working for the Santa Fe Trail Transportation Company until his retirement in 1980.
Still living life precariously, he made his first parachute jump from the altitude of 13,500 feet at the age of 81. Not to be outdone, his sister, Grace, also jumped that day and she was 89. Art said that he might do it again when he gets to be 100 years old.
Art Combs passed away on January 26, 2013 and was laid to rest beside his wife, Virginia, in Lakeview Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas.
Thank you to Art Combs and Darrin McKim