Better-known as RaJo Jack or Jack DeSoto is a true racing legend and a pioneer of American racecar driving. He initially stood out as one of the first African Americans to acquire prominence in the racing world, inspiring many generations to follow in his footsteps. Born in 1905, Dewey was a native of Tyler, Texas. Compared with many other African-American kids, Dewey didn’t have it so rough. In fact, his father worked for the railroads, meaning that he had a steadier income than most people of color in his community. It was still a modest job, but it provided more stability for the whole family. To start pulling his weight for the family, a young Dewey started working as a laborer when he was only a teenager, and it did not take long before he developed some skills with mechanical devices. In particular, he became quite fond of cars and engines, as it would often tinker with vehicle parts and anything that would have wheels or a motor! He even built customized cars based on the iconic Model T Roadster. People in the community started to notice his talent, so he managed to establish himself as a mechanic. However, Dewey was not only good at fixing and modifying cars. He also knew how to make them go fast! He took up racing in the 1920s when he would wow audiences at country fairs. Realizing that California was the place to be if you were serious about pursuing a career in a race car driving, it moved to the city of Pasadena. He started to acquire another notoriety under the name of Jack DeSoto, a pseudonym he made up for himself. He was eventually nicknamed RaJo Jack after RaJo cylinder heads, of which he became a salesman and representative. While his racing career was quite successful, like many people of his time, Dewey struggled with the advent of the Great Depression, a time of difficulty and struggle for most people.
Although money was hard to come by, public figures and entertainers like Rajo Jack gave people hope and a much-needed break from their day-to-day struggle. Dewey continued to race even after the end of the depression, competing in the ARA (American Racing Association in the 1940s. He was a daredevil and often made a strong impression on the audience with his stunts. On a couple of occasions, Dewey even had dangerous accidents, such as barely surviving a race at the Steele County fair in Minnesota, as well as becoming blind in his right eye following a motorcycle stunt. At some point, racing had to stop due to World War II. The government needed as many resources as possible, so the industry focused on the war effort, producing engines, vehicles, and mechanical parts for the army rather than for the general public. The war ended eventually, and Rajo resumed his racing career. However, his fitness soon deteriorated due to all the racing injuries that he sustained throughout the years. At some point, he could barely even reach the steering wheel! His last race date back to 1954, when Rajo Jack stomped on the gas for one last time in Honolulu, Hawaii. He passed away just a few years later in 1956, due to heart problems. To this day, Rajo Jack is considered one of the most influential racers. Many even saw him as an early symbol of the fight against racism in America.
Rajo Jack was targeted by racists quite frequently, and he was even afraid of being photographed, due to concerns that he might not have been allowed in racing circles. Thankfully, other drivers respected Rajo Jack so much, and they would often stand up for him whenever he would be singled out due to his color. On many occasions, restauranteurs and hotel managers refused to serve Rajo. However, his fellow drivers often banded up, threatening to leave if they denied serving Rajo. One of the biggest problems Rajo Jack encountered was definitely how to deal with the trophy girl. It was customary for race winners to get a kiss from a gorgeous traffic girl, which happened to be white. It was unthinkable for a black man to kiss a white girl at the time, so Rajo got his victory kisses from his wife, Ruth! Some racing historians, as well as fellow racers from Rajo’s days, also claim that the fact that he was black denied him so many opportunities. It is likely because prejudice against skin color that Rajo was never allowed to compete in major races such as the Indianapolis 500, as well as become a member of the AAA, the premier racing association in America in those days.
To this day, Rajo Jack remains a beloved figured in the world of racing, always considered an outlaw and a daring racer with a flair for showmanship, not to mention his talent.