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Thread: Racing Legend Johnny Dortch

  1. #1
    Quincy Welding/ Racing Original Looper 1's Avatar
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    Nov 2006
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    Default Racing Legend Johnny Dortch

    Outboard racing has lost a true legend with the passing of St. Louis, Missouri's Johnny Dortch.

    To say that the Christner's and Johnny Dortch share a rich outboard racing history is an understatement. I remember the flamboyant, skillful and tremendously successful boat racer, Johnny Dortch, from a very young age. I have a photo that Johnny took back in the 1950's of my father and I together at a race in Arkansas that I cherish so much that it is sitting on my bedroom dresser so that I can see it each morning. I was fortunate enough to have a very long phone conversation with Johnny about old times right before this year's Depue races. I am so thankful that we had that opportunity to talk. We in the outboard racing family were blessed with his presence throughout our association.

    We are greatful that Johnny took the time a couple of years back to put together an autobiography of his outboard racing history for the web site. Johnny also sent along enough photos from his outboard racing days to fill 2 pages on the web site, covering his 5 decades of racing.

    Here is part of Johnny's outboard racing story and a few of his early photos:


    Johnny Dortch's race career covered almost 50 years. Johnny won numerous races and title championships over his long racing career. He won the St. Louis High-Point trophy in 1952. Johnny won the sportsmanship trophies for the North-South races in 1957, 1959 and 1966. His racing career included serving as a NOA Commissioner and 8 years as Commodore of the St. Louis Outboard Drivers Association.

    Johnny Dortch's racing career began in 1947 in Arkansas, upon his return home from overseas & WWII. He started in racing with a doctor, an auto parts store manager, and a farmer/orchard owner. They started to build a step hydro from Popular Mechanic plans and Johnny stepped in to finish the boat. The group bought a 10 hp Mercury Lighting. At 27 mph, Johnny said it was fast (38 years later he was running 107 mph with a Konig). Someone told them about a hot rod shop in Memphis, so Johnny drove his 36 Ford pickup truck to Memphis to see if they could get their motor running faster. At this time Johnny heard about some boat races at Batesville, Arkansas. The group decided to purchase a hydro by a boat builder named Shorty Ailinger in Kansas City. They spent the next few years, in Johnny's words, tearing up all the water around Arkansas.

    Johnny moved to St. Louis in 1950 and found himself at the St Louis Yacht Club on the Mississippi River, watching a boat race. Later in the year, he found himself at a race at Creve Coeur Lake. A couple of guys were having trouble starting a 10 hp Merc, so Johnny got into a discussion with them. Johnny ended up taking a ride in their 2 seat race boat. They asked if he wanted to go with them to some boat races at Branson, MO the next weekend. Johnny said by the time he got around to meeting up with the friends he had gone to the race with, they had given up on him and left, so he had to take a taxi home. He told his wife, Liz, that he had found himself something to race.

    In 1951 Johnny drove a 2 seat Morphew runabout to high point A runabout in St Louis for Bob Compton. He then moved out to Creve Coeur Lake and met Charlie Black. Charlie built Johnny a runabout that he ran 3 races before flipping. That's when Johnny said he learned how to fix and keep the bottom of a runabout straight. According to Johnny, he ran a couple of years and won a few races.

    Johnny said he'd heard about Christner and Palmer up in Quincy. He tracked down Chris (O. F. Christner) in the 1950's and started a relationship with him that resulted in Johnny winning more races. They were at Cairo, IL for the North-South Races when Chris introduced Johnny to Charlie Whitlaw and recommended Johnny as the driver Charlie was looking for. Charlie ordered a new A-B DeSilva and had Chris order them the Big B Swift. This started one of the winningest teams for 4 or 5 years

    Johnny and Charlie's partnership resulted in a very successful outboard racing team for the two. They were very successful together in 1957-59. At this time, Johnny's boat numbers were 9-Y and 99Y. Johnny said it was nothing to go to a race and win all 8 heats of A and B runabout and hydro. They won one World Championship. In 1956 Charlie, at the suggestion of Jud Davis, bought a new A Konig from Scott Smith. Johnny & Charlie won quite a few races with the Konig. Whitelaw also purcahsed a new Anzani B for Johnny to race.

    To read Johnny's entire racing story, go to:
    and click on Johnny Dortch's name on the Legends page. You will also see the links to the 2 pages of Johnny's photo album.

    Our condolences to Johnny's family on his passing. Johnny touched the lives of many in the outboard racing community and will be greatly missed.


    Paul A Christner
    and the Christner Family
    Attached Images Attached Images    

  2. #2
    Team Member Gene East's Avatar
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    Dec 2004
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    Thanks for posting this mini-history of John Dortch.

    It was indeed an honor to call John my friend!

  3. #3
    Team Member jrome's Avatar
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    Jan 2005
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    Default Adopted Texan - Big John Dortch

    John always told me he loved coming to Texas to race. Many years ago, we adopted John as an honorary Texan. Everybody in the Lone Star Boat Racing Association loved it when John did come to Texas to race. John had the Code of The West. May he rest in peace.

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    No one will ever be able to say that John did not put up the "good fight". Like others that have posted here, I was pleased to see he and Little John at DePue, as I know he wanted that trip probably more than anything.

    As Gene East says about "Lake Paradise", I hope the water is smooth, his ride fast, and what would make everything absolutely perfect is a comfortable duck blind nearby that he could retire to after the race is over. The only thing left to put the icing on the cake would be some corn and CRP fields nearby with plenty of Ringnecks and Quail settled there, and then the doves coming in to roost in the evening.

    RIP John.

    Bill and Eileen

  5. #5
    Allen J. Lang


    I was shocked to hear of John's passing. Form what I have read here, it sounded like he was accomidating to his problem and had attended DePue. In my early years of racing, I had read of many of his exploits and was envious of his winnings.
    May his soul rest in piece at Lake PARIDISE.

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