If we could create a list of all the world’s greatest drivers who never got a chance to compete in the Indianapolis 500, Charlie Wiggins would be at the top of the list. A dominant driver who won the prestigious Gold and Glory Sweepstakes four times, Wiggins would have normally been a shoo-in at the 500-mile race. Wiggins, though, never got to compete because of the color of his skin. Now, a new documentary aims to display his life on the big screen.
The documentary, titled Eraced, is being produced by Ed Welburn and Madisun Leigh from Welburn Media Productions. Production is expected to start sometime in 2022 with assistance from both Firestone and the NTT IndyCar Series. It’s based on For Gold and Glory: Charlie Wiggins and the African American Racing Car Circuit by Todd Gould, a book-turned-documentary that chronicles Wiggins’ life.
Wiggins had one hell of a life. He was born to a coal miner, and his mother died when he was nine. By the time he was 11, Wiggins was working as a shoeshine boy to support his family. As it happened, his shoeshine pitch was located outside of an auto dealer, and that’s where Wiggins found his passion. He picked up some mechanical skills just by watching the men at work, and he convinced the shop to sign him on as an apprentice as one of the few Black men on staff. Before long, Wiggins moved to Indianapolis and bought a repair garage from a man who retired.
An interest in cars soon led to racing, and Wiggins built his own car, the Wiggins Special, in his spare time. His first event was the Colored Speedway Association’s Gold and Glory Sweepstakes race, a 100-mile event that took place on the dirt oval at the Indiana State Fairground. Wiggins ran with the leaders until his engine failed.
He was an exceptional racer, one who dominated the CSA’s 1926 season — when he wasn’t winning, he was still finishing in the top five. He even managed to join a team for the Indy 500, which he had to do by claiming to be a janitor, despite his top-notch mechanical skills.
His career was a successful one, but at the 1936 Gold and Glory event, Wiggins was caught up in a 13-car accident that saw him lose his right leg and eye. It was a tragic end to a stunning career, especially because Wiggins spent the rest of his life haunted by pain and medical bills that whittled away at his morale and his savings. He died in 1979 after an infection in the damaged limb that had plagued him for much of his life.
It’s difficult to imagine what Wiggins could have done if he had been allowed to race in the Indy 500 proper, but he existed in an era of horrifying segregation that saw Black competitors barred from entering the biggest race in the world.