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History of the Terlingua Racing Team & the Terlingua International Chili Cookoff

(as told by Bill Neale)

In the Beginning…

The Terlingua logo is black and yellow, with a rabbit holding its paw in the air.  How it came together is quite a story.  The whole thing actually got started when a group including Carroll Shelby, Dave Witts, Tom Tierney, David E Davis, Jr. and myself (Bill Neale) would go down to Terlingua to hang out, hunt deer, ride motorcycles, have some drinks and eat real well.  Usually these trips would last anywhere from four to five days.  We would get down there in many different ways, but most of the time we flew down on Shelby’s DC-3 which he would bring to Dallas from Los Angeles.  We did this two or three times a year.

After purchasing the more than 200,000 acres that made up the Terlingua Ranch, and while trying to decide what to do with the land, Shelby and Witts decided to do something to benefit the Terlingua community by developing a technical school for young men.  Brewster County is a very sparsely populated area, and these young folks couldn’t afford to travel the nearly 100 miles to the nearest schools.  There were literally more goats living in and around Terlingua than people.  The boy’s technical school effort got off to a good start, but later fell apart for many reasons, most of them political.

While we were working on the school idea, Tom Tierney came to me and said “Bill, wouldn’t it be nice if you designed a Terlingua Ranch logo?”  Tierney was a public relations man who worked with Ford Motor Company.  We met early one morning for breakfast at the Rafter’s Club on Northwest Highway in Dallas.  The first logo was drawn on a paper napkin, and we chose the colors, which were to be yellow and black.  Tom is the man responsible for really promoting the first Terlingua chili cook off in 1967.  At that time, the logo consisted only of the rabbit, the sun and the three feathers.

At first, I thought about a buzzard…

The Terlingua Ranch Logo Terlingua Ranch logo has this rabbit which looks like what you would see on a European coat of arms.  Originally I sketched some ideas using various other critters that lived in the area around Terlingua and the Rio Grande River.  Among the other critters that I tried on the first design was a buzzard, which was pretty neat.  But then I thought, the jackrabbit is really more of a Texas critter…and the design just naturally developed.  His ears have a classic look and he has fur up around his neck.  Many people wonder why he’s holding up his right foot, but the reason is simple. He’s saying, “No more peppers in my chili please!!!”

The three feathers underneath the rabbit represent the three Indian tribes that populated the area prior to the days when cinnabar ore was mined to produce mercury.  The three Indian tribes were the Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche.  The tribes gathered in an area around the only source of water, now called Terlingua Creek, and while living together they developed one language.  The name of the region comes from these three languages or “Tres Lingues”, later adapted as “Terlingua”.

Also on the logo is the sun, which I included primarily because it is so bloomin’ hot down there! Midday temperatures of 110º-115º are typical.  I picked the color yellow because it just seemed appropriate for that area.  Most areas down there are either bright earth colors or brown.  In the upper left hand corner there is the date 1860.  In the mid 1800’s, mercury or “quicksilver” mining made Terlingua a boom town.  1860 was the date of the first race ever held in the Terlingua area.  That first race was between two mercury (ore) wagons pulled by 6 mules each and it was held on the road which is now the center of Terlingua.  When I told that to Shelby he said, “Neale, that’s a hell of a story.  Where did you find it?  What book was it in?”  And I said, “Shelby, I didn’t read that in a book.  I made it up!”

The Team is Born

Bill Neale and Terlingua Racing Team Logo
Bill Neale affixes the Terlingua Racing Team decal to the very first Shelby GT350R race car at Green Valley Raceway near Dallas, Texas, February 14, 1965.

After the Terlingua Ranch logo was created in the mid-1960’s, Shelby said, “You know, it would be kinda neat to use this as a racing team logo too!  If you will figure out how to do it, we’ll use it on some of the GT350-R models I’m developing.”  Shelby brought the first car to Green Valley Raceway near Dallas on February 14, 1965.  Ken Miles drove the car, designated 5R002.  It was white with blue stripes and the first “R” model Shelby Mustang ever to race.  I said, “Shelby why don’t we put our first Terlingua logo on there?” The logo by now had “Terlingua Racing Team” on it and he said “let’s do it!”  That car won the race that day and has been documented in a lot of magazines, various books and so on.  At right is a picture of me putting the Terlingua Racing Team logo on 5R002 on race day.

The Terlingua Racing Team logo was later used on the 1967 Jerry Titus car, which raced in the Trans-Am series.  This is one of the original cars Shelby asked me (Bill Neale) to design graphics for.  He said, “Let’s use a color that will make it different and show up real well on the Trans-Am grid.”  I immediately thought of the Terlingua yellow and black.  My original design had a yellow hood with a black stripe down the middle rather than the total black hood he actually put on the car. (Supposedly the drivers complained about the glare from the yellow hood.) It made the Terlingua Racing Team one of the more popular logos of the day.

Hey, What Are You Sticking On My Car???

Now many people have asked, “How did you manage to get all that publicity for such a mark?”  It is really fun to see all the various places where the Terlingua Racing Team logo has appeared.  We have seen cars at Le Mans with the logo and we have no idea how they got the decal.  The logo has also been on some cars Shelby campaigned in Europe…some of which were sponsored by Ford Motor Company, so we had to be very careful where we put those logos.  The Terlingua Racing Team logo has also appeared on airplanes, boats, and someone even sent a picture of a camel in India with the logo on the chair where riders sit.  Once I walked in to a men’s restroom in Geneva, Switzerland, and the gentleman that hands you the towel had a little desk there.  On a bulletin board above his desk, there was a Terlingua Racing Team logo!

Of all the fun we had putting it on various things, none can hold a candle to the time Shelby and I were walking down the starting grid prior to the 1966 Indy 500.  When no one was looking, we very carefully applied Terlingua Racing Team decals wherever we could on the race cars, mixed in among the decals representing companies that had spent a lot of money for that privilege.  We thought we had made it to the end of the line, putting at least one of TRT decals on each car and felt kind of smug and proud of ourselves.  But as we were heading to our seats we realized we had missed one car, and of course, that was the car that won the race!  You know, that little logo has really created a lot of good times, and a lot of fun, for a lot of people.

Chili­Heads, Hollywood Stars, Race Car Drivers, Monks and Politicians

Shortly after the TRT logo was created, the first chili cook­off was held in 1967 and TRT logo was used extensively there. That event also lead to the development of “official” positions in the fictitious Terlingua City Council, or as it was commonly known, the “Terlingua Municipal Board”. We came up with lots of positions and titles that involved some really famous people from that time.

The Terlingua Municipal Board initially started with David Witts, Carroll Shelby, Wick Fowler and me (Bill Neale).  Wick Fowler had created a chili mix called “Two Alarm Chili” still available in stores today.  Soon afterwards we added more titles and more Board members:

  • Mayor – David A. Witts
  • Water Commissioner – Frank X. Tolbert
  • Park Commissioner – John B. King
  • City Meteorologist – James Underwood
  • Airport Manager – George Haddaway (the chili king)
  • Road Commissioner – Murray Forswall (Dallas Times Herald sports writer)
  • Social Director – Carroll Shelby
  • Chief Justice of the Municipal Court – Thomas J. Tierney
  • Director of the Museum of Modern Art – Bill Neale (The museum actually consisted of a two­-hole outdoor privy right behind the old saloon…which is still there by the way.)
  • Director of Libraries – Holland McCombs
  • Police Commissioner – James Jones
  • City Secretary – Buck Marriott (of American Airlines)
  • Unemployment Commissioner – Ed Lowed
  • Director of the Sanitary Department – Irving Harrington
  • Captain of the Port of Terlingua – B. Anderson
  • Dog Catcher – Joe Mashman
  • City Treasurer – Chavis Chapman
  • Building Commissioner – Robert Sturgiss
  • Director of Weights and Measures – Keith Shelton
  • Superintendent of Schools Bill Rives (Dallas Morning News Sports Editor – he knew how to spell better than anybody else)
  • Editor of the Terlingua Tarantula (our official newspaper) – Paul Crume (Dallas Morning News writer)
  • Justice of the Peace – Margaret Vlasik
  • Director of Aviation – George Coker
  • City Engineer – William J. Davis
  • Press Secretary to the Mayor – Robert W. Irving
  • Chief Chili Head – Wick Fowler
  • Keeper of the General Store – Fred Schwartz
  • Society Chief – Jack Vaughn

I think it was Bill Rives who said we needed a slogan like most big cities. The one I remember most quoted was, “In keeping with Terlingua model of looking backwards we hope you have a good year coming up.”

There were many people involved with the Terlingua International Chili Cook­off, as well as the many racing endeavors that began to take off down there.  Surprisingly not all of the racers that used the Terlingua Racing Team logo were Ford teams!  We even had people driving Ferraris with TRT decals on them. There were also Maseratis, Corvettes, British cars and many others running the Terlingua logo.

The cast that was most involved with many of the activities, cars or the chili, included Suzy Watson, Gordon Fowler, Happy Shahan, Larry Lavine (Chili’s Restaurants founder), Ruta Lee (actress), Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, Kathleen Tolbert, Alex Burton (writer and TV star), Hallie Stillwell (a legend in Big Bend), Dick Wheeler, Jerry Jeff Walker and Hondo Crouch of Luckenbach, TX.  The fictional Imogene Twitty was a figment of Frank X. Tolbert’s imagination, and it drove people crazy when they tried to run down her background. Then there was Alegani Jani Schofield, Kit Goldsbury, Dick Hitt (writer), Wayne Fleming, Fred McMurray (actor), Yellow Dog Marsh, Hal John Wimberly, Paul Smith and Billy Bob Crim from Kilgore.  It was Billy Bob who first introduced me (Bill Neale) to Shelby in the 1950’s, but whether or not he is to be prosecuted for that remains to be seen.  Others involved include Sam Pendergrast, Tom Nall, Fred Laswell, A. C. Greene, Ann Fowler, John Henry Faulk (humorist), Jo Ann Horton, Dr. David Hoy, Mandy Dealey (my favorite Delta Airlines Hostess), Calvin Clyde, Jr., Bill Porterfield, David Wade, Kathy Morgan and Guich Koock.

This bunch came to call itself the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI).  Later they split into three separate groups…one group keeping the CASI name, one group adopting the name “The Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff” (the “behind the store” bunch) and the final group, mostly Californians set up the International Chili Society.

Well that’s the story, and most of it’s true.  As for the Terlingua Racing Team logo, heck it’s been everywhere ­and who knows where you’ll see it next!