Friday, October 2, 2015

He was my Hero before I knew he was my Cousin

In this photo we see Super Modified race car driver Jimmy Harkness driving to the green flag for the win at the Hutchinson, KS Nationals in 1973. The #11 car was owned by Les Steinert of Ness City, KS. 
Jimmy is pictured at right as he receives the trophy from Dick Preston for winning the Kansas State Fair Championship Races in 1973. Car owner Les Steinert is at right. 

I was married in 1971 to my first husband, who had spent time as a stock car driver before our marriage. Our favorite activity for weekend entertainment was attending stock and Super Modified car races in Dodge City, Wichita and Hutchinson, Kansas that were presented by Jack Merrick. From April through September we enjoyed our Saturday nights in the stands of the circle tracks. Our favorite Super Modified driver was Jimmy Harkness. He became our favorite because we could tell he was a decent man who drove with respectful aggression. And he won. A lot! In this article, Jack Merrick tells us that in 1973, Jimmy won "..just about everything there was to be won in Kansas. He won the National Championship in Hutchinson, The Kansas State Championship in Hutchinson, the Five State Championship at Liberal, The Merrick Circuit Championship and was the season high point trophy winner."

But tragedy struck this young man's life and Jimmy left us in 1976. My cousin Kate Keller posted his obituary on Find-A-Grave: 
Birth: Aug. 4, 1947, Ness City, Ness, Kansas, USA
Death: Feb. 28, 1976, Ness City, Ness, Kansas, USA

A 28-year-old Ness City man, who frequently defied the dangers of the race car track, died here Saturday in a highway accident.

Jim T. Harkness, who was the winner of the 1973 National Modified Championship race in Hutchinson, was killed when the farm truck he was driving collided with a semi-tank truck at an intersection three miles north of here on US283.

Harkness, who also farmed in the area, was dead on arrival at the Ness County Hospital. The second driver, Roger Sallee, Dodge City, was not injured.

A spokesman for the Ness County sheriff's office said both vehicles were traveling south on US283. Harkness was negotiating a left turn at the intersection when the second driver tried to pass.

The spokesman said both vehicles came to rest in the left-hand ditch, and Harkness was pinned in the wreckage for a time.

Jimmy was just 3 months older than me. When my husband and I heard of his death, we were deeply saddened. We'd lost a friend. I hadn't met him personally, I had no autograph, no posed photograph with him, had never talked to him, but felt like I knew him. We'd watched him race for 5 years. We cheered and applauded him and looked forward to the excitement he brought to the weekly racing circuit.

That was 1976. At that time in my life I knew very little about my family's ancestry, connections, and relationships. I knew especially little about my mother's family since I didn't grow up with my mother in my household. It was in 1999 that I finally started delving into my family's history. To my good fortune, the first listing I found online about my maternal ancestors was submitted by my second cousin, Kate Keller, "Genealogy Bug Kate"! And as the years have gone by, I've learned so much about my maternal ancestors. In fact, to my great shock and surprise, I learned that my racing hero Jimmy Harkness was my COUSIN!

In this chart, we can see that James Terrell 'Jimmy' Harkness was the great, great grandson of James S. Strait, who is also my great, great grandfather. So Jimmy and I are 3rd cousins. And I'm proud. He was my hero before I knew he was my cousin. 


Michelle Ganus Taggart said...

What an amazing story and how fun to find that someone you followed and admired is actually a relative. There are so many fun unexpected finds in family history.

Michelle Ganus Taggart said...

What an amazing story and how fun to find that someone you followed and admired is actually a relative. There are so many fun unexpected finds in family history.