Fifty-percent Cherokee and 100 percent showman, Tex Enright was best known as the most colorful individual to every wave the signal flags at any automobile race. But what most people don’t know is that “The Indian Starter” was also a fairly decent race-car driver although a great deal about that part of his life and racing career has been lost to history.
Enright was born in Vernon, Texas, and he moved with his family to Paterson, New Jersey, when he was a child. He got into Midget racing when it was going strong after World War II and when it slowed down he began to race Modified stock-cars.
On Sunday afternoon April 16, 1950, Enright won a very special event at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Middletown, New York, in the No. 407 Modified coupe owned by Tom Berry Sr. as this was the opening day of the first weekly races at Victory Speedway. The track was a one-fifth-mile asphalt oval within the infield of the Fairgrounds’ five-eights-mile dirt oval – which became the Orange County Fair Speedway – but it marked Enright’s only racing victory on the grounds of the famous “hard clay” speedway where he would be the starter.
When Enright gave up driving and took to handling the starter’s flags, he became as much a part of the racing shows as the cars and drivers were for some 25 years.
His flagging style was also quite different as he disliked the starter’s stand and preferred to do his job while standing right on the speedway’s front stretch. He also used his colorful signal flags to start, control and end races in a manner that had all the razzle-dazzle of a symphony conductor or a drum major. In his early years as a starter his race-day outfit was usually a sharp and snappy official’s white – along with a black and white checkered floppy cap – which helped to make him more visible when he was trackside.
But as he built a persona around his Native American heritage, Enright adopted a fringed buckskin shirt or vest with the bright colors and intricate beadwork that is common on traditional Native American clothing. He also usually wore something distinctive on his head – maybe a wide-brimmed hat or a beaded headband. And it was not unusual to see him handling his flags in a pair of white bell-bottomed trousers with a pair of moccasins on his feet.
A construction worker in the off-season who survived two serious job-related accidents (a fractured skull in 1972 and a bulldozer rolling onto him in 1973) to flag again, Enright was a popular and dedicated official who had a lot of friends throughout the racing community.
However, when he was at work on the race track he had no friends as every driver in competition was under his sharp eye and no one ever got a jump on him when he leaped into the air flourishing his green flag.
Probably most famous for his 10 years at the old half-mile dirt Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway, Enright and his family lived in a trailer on the speedway’s grounds during his tenure there.
He also handled the flags at the old New Jersey speedways in Flemington, East Windsor, Phillipsburg (Harmony), Old Bridge, Long Branch and Paterson (Hincliffe Stadium); the old one-fifth-mile asphalt layout at Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania; and, it was not unusual for him to make a special mid-week appearance at any other Eastern track where his unique and colorful services were needed.
When Enright left Nazareth, he helped to build the Cairo (N.Y.) Speedway, but that track only ran five events in 1977 before the town shut it down. He was then the starter at Accord (N.Y.) Speedway and Five Mile Point in Kirkwood, New York.
In October 1979, Tex Enright was diagnosed with lung cancer and he died on January 5, 1980, at the age of 57.