EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – After being born in Evansville in 1897, Charlie Wiggins developed a need for speed early in life.

Wiggins got his start while working as a mechanic’s assistant. But after becoming a race car driver and engineer, he dealt with segregation in the auto racing industry.

“I think the racism affected his life,” said Kori Miller, executive director of the Evansville African American Museum. “I think he wanted to leave a mark to encourage other drivers and just to try to get some equality in terms of the skills he had to offer.”

Wiggins would design his own “Wiggins special” car with hopes of racing with it in the Indy 500, which was fairly new at the time. But when he submitted his application in 1920, he was denied because of the color of his skin.

But he was not deterred from racing.

“I think what he was trying to do was to open it up because he was rejected. He really wanted to be a race car driver.”

In 1924 he raced in the first ever Gold & Glory Sweepstakes, an event for black drivers to take part in.

“I mean it was a parallel race for African-Americans. He won that four times.”

10 years later, his life would direct him back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an engineer, working on the winning car of the Indy 500 .

“He remained resilient and remained a mentor to upcoming African-American racers and spent his entire life, that second part just inspiring, mentoring, encouraging and fighting for equality on the race track,” said Tory Schendel-Vyvoda.

And though he wasn’t allowed in the winning circle, his role in the Indy-500 that year was respected. There is a park in Indianapolis that carries his name and he was inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

“But also, with his impact to Evansville, I think it’s important to focus on the hope aspect, that just because you’re from an impoverished area doesn’t mean you can’t grow up to be a leading member in your community. And for Charlie Wiggins, that was in racing.”

And even when he passed away in 1979, his memory still lives on as a champion!