THE PASSING OF A GREAT ONE: FIVE YEARS ON By DOC LEHMAN
The dirt racing community was shocked and left in dismay five years ago this month when news broke that dirt Late Model superstar “Black” Jack Boggs, 49, of Grayson, KY, had left us. Black Jack Boggs had, especially since 1980, established himself as one of the true superstars of dirt Late Model racing having won most of the premier events around the country at least once.
Jack Boggs was a great racer who was always in contention to win. During his prime years no one was as focused or resolved about winning as Boggs was. He ran his racing operation like a business and watched out for his loyal crewmembers. During the 1980s especially, Jack Boggs proved himself as an elite driver in the sport. And not only was he a winner and a contender, but Jack Boggs also was a fan favorite.
Simply put, Black Jack Boggs sold tickets. Lots of tickets, which, one must assume, made him a favorite among promoters. Jack Boggs always brought excitement and daring to the races he entered. Sometimes he brought controversy, but with Jack Boggs in the pits no one could deny that some excitement was about to erupt trackside.
Muriel Jackson Boggs was born April 4, 1950, in Webbville, KY, to James Arley Boggs, Sr., and Hattie (Sizemore) Boggs.
After dabbling in street and drag racing in the early 1970's, Boggs became enamored with dirt track racing after visiting Southern Ohio Raceway in 1978. He purchased a Hobby Stock and began his career, moving up to Late Models in 1979.
His first full season in 1979 found Boggs competing at Southern Ohio Raceway and Checkered Flag Speedway near Ashland, KY. A pivotal turning point in Boggs' career came at the end of 1980 when coal magnate Garland Flaugher offered to sponsor him. Around this same time Boggs met noted car builder CJ Rayburn and Boggs' career went national, competing across the country with the NDRA and the All Star Circuit of Champions.
During SPEEDWEEKS in 1981, Boggs won his first time out with Flaugher as a sponsor and Rayburn as his car builder.
Boggs went on to accumulate over 400 wins. Among Boggs' most impressive wins were three DIRT TRACK WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS ('84,'90,'95), three HILLBILLY 100's ('85,'86,'87) and the WORLD 100 ('95). Other prestigious events won by Boggs, many several times over, included the EAST BAY NATIONALS, CEDAR LAKE OUTLAW NATIONALS, HUB CITY NATIONALS, JACKSON 100, NORTH-SOUTH 100 and dozens of others.
In 1982 Boggs won the famed NDRA sanctioned “Superbowl of Dirt” race held indoors at the Pontiac (MI) Silverdome in front of 30,000 fans.
The low point in Boggs' illustrious career came in May 1982 at Paducah, KY, when Boggs was involved in a head-on collision due to adverse track conditions. In the ensuing melee Boggs suffered a broken tailbone, broken nose and broken cheekbone. Popular racer Jim Dunn lost his life in that same accident.
Boggs also earned two STARS championships titles ('85,'88) and an All Star Circuit of Champions title ('84). Boggs also won many, many races sanctioned by NDRA, STARS, Hav-A-Tampa/UDTRA, UMP, USAC, World of Outlaws, ASCoC, PROS, NASCAR Busch All Stars and Southern All Stars.
Boggs enjoyed immense success with STARS over the years. Besides his two championship titles, Boggs was third on STARS' all time win list with 27 victories. Among Boggs' other STARS achievements were five major wins at Pennsboro Speedway (the most by any driver in STARS sanctioned competition at the legendary half mile track), four wins at Florence (KY) Speedway and three wins each at Pittsburgh's PA Motor Speedway and West Virginia Motor Speedway.
Boggs' first STARS win came June 23, 1984 at Log Cabin (VA) Raceway. His last STARS win came May 10, 1997 when he drove his familiar #B4 to victory in the BLUE GRASS NATIONALS at Florence Speedway.
In recent years Boggs was also a regular competitor with the UDTRA series, scoring four career UDTRA wins. Boggs' first UDTRA win cam eon February 16, 1991, at Putnam County (FL) Speedway. Boggs also won UDTRA events at Atomic (TN) Speedway, Jax (FL) raceway and St. Augustine (FL) Speedway, the site of his last UDTRA win, which occurred February 5, 1995.
In addition, Boggs also won three NDRA events and 15 All Star Circuit of Champions victories.
By 1999 Boggs had sold his racing operation and became a driver-for-hire. During the 2000 SPEEDWEEKS events at East Bay Raceway, Boggs drove the #1cj CJ Rayburn house car in the STARS and UDTRA sanctioned events. His best finish was a fifth in STARS action.
Boggs' brother, Randy Boggs, is a well known racer who is also a former WORLD 100 winner. Boggs' eldest son, Jackie, is a well known Late Model racer with several championships to his credit and one of the sport’s hottest drivers. Boggs' second son, Tommy, has also done some dirt Late Model racing.
But as for Black Jack, he will be remembered for many things, but first and foremost he will be remembered for his incredible driving talent. He would never quit on the track.
“I guess you could say what I remember the most is that Jack was a fierce competitor on the track,” commented Bret Emrick, Corporate Liaison for the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. Previously Emrick served as Race Director for the STARS/Renegade Dirt Car Racing Series for a decade before joining the Stacker 2 Xtreme Dirt Car Series for a season . “I really never knew him until I started working with STARS but I always admired his talents behind the wheel when I announced at Pennsboro and when he raced at the old Buckeye (Wayne County) Speedway, where I also announced, when STARS came to town.”
“I always thought he was a patient driver, especially in the 100 lappers. He just seemed to always hang around in striking distance for the majority of the race and then would march his way to the front late in the race. I always thought to myself that was very smart racing. You don't win the race on the first lap. And, as the old saying goes, ‘To finish first you must first finish'. I always thought Jack adhered to that in his racing.”
“My fondest memories of Jack were in the late 70's and early 80's when he would come to Atomic for the Hall of Fame 100,” Scott French related recently. French formerly worked for the UDTRA/Xtreme Dirt Car Series as Race Director and now works for NASCAR. “He always ran well there. You knew when the B4 rolled in to the pit area, that there was a big race in town. I remember asking him for an autograph after one of the races. He obliged, and also let me sit in the car. At 11 years old that was a big thrill to me, and I'll always remember that.”
“Jack seemed to have a knack for taking a car that probably wasn't the fastest car in the field and was still able to win with it purely on driving skill, and he always elevated his game when the money was on the line for the big races. When you were racing for big money you knew Jack was going to be somebody to contend with.”
That was an apt description of Black Jack Boggs. If he lived a previous life, one could bet it was as a riverboat gambler or a gunfighter in the old west. Like him or not, Jack Boggs had personality. And it was a personality that set him apart and made him unique. His personality created excitement and through it he forged, unknowingly one would assume, a marketable persona that drew race fans and admirers.
He was also not afraid to speak his mind and voice his opinion or displeasure. He wasn't a loose cannon by any means, but Boggs had a bit of a temper and it was easily provoked if he thought he had been done wrong.
“I guess when you look back on it now it was kind of funny when Jack didn't appreciate a call I made as race director for STARS at Pennsboro during the 1997 DIRT TRACK WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, at least I think it was in 1997,” related Emrick. “Anyway, the rule states that if you are involved in a caution and come to a stop on the track you must go to the tail of the field for the restart. Well, it was late in one of the heat races with only three to transfer and Jack was racing second to Jack Pennington when they came up on lapped traffic in turn two. Everyone that has ever been to Pennsboro knows that track is one of the hardest places to get around even if there is no lapped traffic to contend with. Pennington got into the lapped car which got the lapped car messed up and Jack had no place to go, made contact with the lapped car and spun to a stop.”
“Well, Jack didn't want to go to the tail. Jack stopped on the front chute pleading his case with the officials working the track and they kept telling him he had to go to the tail. I could see his side of the story from a driver's perspective but the rules are the rules and you have to go by the rules. Jack refused to go to the tail and the track officials told him either go to the tail or go to the pits. He wouldn't budge so I called for a push truck or tow truck to get him into the pits. When the push truck got behind him he floored it and headed pitside.”
“I was perched on top of our pit trailer on the front chute. That gave me a good view all the around the racetrack. When Jack headed to the pits I sort of thought to myself, ‘Guess Jack is going to want to have a discussion with me now'. Jack climbed up on top of the trailer and voiced his displeasure quite well. He was really upset but I explained to him as calmly as I could what the rule is and that we had to abide by it. Now this is going on for who knows how many minutes on top of the trailer in front of thousands of people. I mean Jack was fired up!”
“I continued to explain to him in a calm manner what the rule was and why the rule was enforced. Jack poked me in the chest a few times with his index finger while he argued his point but I just told myself that if I lose my cool it's only going to make the situation worse. It must have been close to 10 minutes that Jack expressed his views and I told him there was nothing that could be done. It was the same thing over and over and over. Finally, Jack just turned around and headed off of our trailer and went back to his pit.”
“The next morning Jack came by the trailer and offered his apologies to me. He said he knew what the rule was and that he didn't agree with it but realized if that was the rule then we had to go by the rules. He said he was sorry for making the organization, myself and himself look bad by his actions. I told him apology accepted and not to let it bother him. I mean, in my job I know the drivers are going to get upset at times and they will voice their displeasure. But I've always felt that what they say is in the heat of the moment and is not meant personally.”
“Jack and I always got along after that little incident. He would always say ‘Hello' and ask how I was doing. And of course I would return the pleasantries. It's the right way to do things. Like I said earlier, at the time it probably wasn't real funny to either of us but now when I look back on it, especially since Jack isn't with us anymore, I always chuckle to myself a little bit when I think back on it.”
Black Jack Boggs graced the sport, and the history books, with achievements, wins and championships that will be hard to duplicate. He also graced the sport with an engaging personality that helped put a face on the sport. His image wasn't false. It wasn't a marketing plan or gimmick. Jack Boggs was the original real deal and what you saw is what you got. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
Jack Boggs was posthumously inducted into the very first class of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in August of 2001.
The sport of dirt Late Model racing was lucky to have Black Jack Boggs as a participant, a winner and a champion. He made the sport exciting, thrilling and gave it a kick in the pants when deserving. But above it all, was his hunger.