On a warm Saturday morning in mid-November, John L. Baeke and Rick Hulett squirted some starting fluid into the downdraft carburetor atop a centrifugal supercharger and cranked an antique eight-cylinder racing engine to life.
By TOM STRONGMAN
With spits and sputters, this polished creation of W. W. “Cockeyed” Brown stumbled awake after decades of slumber. Billows of oil smoke spewed from the exhaust pipe and the racket was enough to rouse the ghosts of the 1922 Kansas City Speedway board track.
William Wayne Brown, who lived from 1886 to 1958, was a Kansas City automotive designer/machinist whose shop was at 127 Southwest Boulevard in a building that is now occupied by Missouri Bank. Baeke does not know the source of Brown’s nickname, Cockeyed, but he said it was a term of endearment that symbolized his many adventures.
Baeke, a retired physician from Overland Park, loves racers from the late 1920s and early 1930s. He discovered this engine in the Wisconsin garage of a fellow car collector several years ago. “It caught my eye because it was a straight-eight,” he said, “and then I said, ‘Oh my gosh, it has a supercharger hanging on it.’ Then I got closer and saw that it had Kansas City embossed on it in four places.” He was able to buy it after his friend developed cancer.
Baeke said Brown drafted, machined and built everything himself, from the block to the finned aluminum oil pan, cams, solid crank, tubular rods, pistons, valves, water pump and supercharger.
After being cleaned up, the engine was placed on a stand, complete with radiator and gas tank, so that it could be started. The polished aluminum sparkles like jewelry.
Hulett, of Merriam, helped Baeke decode the engine’s firing order and prepared it to run.
Brown was a friend with famous engine designers Harry Miller and Fred and Augie Duesenberg. He was well known in local racing circles. He won the inaugural High Banks race at Belleville, Kan., and was a fixture in midget racing at Kansas City’s now defunct Olympic Stadium. He competed in the Santa Monica, Calif., road races, the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb and raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1919. He was on the starting line in September of 1922 for the first event held at the Kansas City Speedway.
The Kansas City Speedway, situated at about 95th and Troost, was a 1.25-mile oval track made out of 1 million board feet of 2x4s set on end and bolted together to create a 45-degree banking in the turns. It could seat 50,000 spectators. Tommy Milton won the 300-mile race at an average speed of 107 miles per hour. The track deteriorated quickly and lasted less than two years.
In addition to the winner Milton and “Cockeyed” Brown, the starting lineup for that first race included several nationally known drivers, such as Pete DePaolo, who also drove one of Brown’s cars, along with Leon Duray and “Smilin’ Ralph” Mulford. Roscoe Sarles was killed in an accident.
Baeke thinks his engine was built around 1925, and it was bolted into a racecar of Brown’s design. The two were separated around 1947. Baeke recently found the racecar in California and hopes someday to reunite it with the engine.
Baeke said it has been difficult researching Brown, his cars and his engine. If anyone has knowledge of W.W. Brown, contact Baeke at JBaeke@ParkPlaceUSA.net.
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