119. Frank Lockhart
Frank Lockhart was born in Dayton, OH on 8 April 1903, and lived next door to Bishop Milton Wright, the father of Wilbur and Orville. Wright took a liking to little Frank and built a bicycle for the kid.
Bishop Milton Wright
When Lockhart’s father died, his mother Carrie packed up Frank and his brother Bob and moved to Southern California, where she worked as a seamstress. Frank had little use for playmates, except to put them to work when he built a “coaster,” a crude unpowered vehicle the kids raced downhill.
Lockhart did poorly in school, studying only what interested him. His mother remembered, “His teachers were always calling me to school and confronting me with drawings of streamlined cars. They would say, ‘This is the way your son is spending his time, drawing these ridiculous things.’” Physicist Robert Milliken of the California Institute of Technology saw promise in the boy, and persuaded him to take college entrance exams. Lockhart, who never mastered spelling, had no patience for learning from textbooks, and never attended Cal Tech.
An exceptional mechanic, Lockhart quickly was drawn to the West Coast ovals, particularly Ascot, where he became known to the Midwestern racing teams that often ran the winter season. By the time he was twenty-three years old, he was driving equipment constructed by Harry Miller and Fred Offenhauser.
Lockhart at Ascot
In 1926, Lockhart traveled with the Miller team to his first Indianapolis 500, and returned as the Champion. Lockhart met John Weisel, a Cal Tech student who worked for Miller, and his brother Zenas, a Berkeley graduate mechanical engineer who’d studied supercharging. The trio developed a “blower” capable of 7500 rpm. When they discovered it got red hot, Lockhart conceived the intercooler. The Weisel brothers went on to long and successful careers in aircraft design.
Lockhart won four more Championship races, including Charlotte and Altoona, PA, demonstrating that the rain-shortened Indy race was more skill than luck. In 1927, he repeated at Charlotte and Altoona, then, added two victories at Salem, NH, to total nine AAA Championship races in two years.
Also in ’27, Lockhart captured the world speed record of 164.28 mph on a Muroc, CA dry lake. The record-setting car was powered by a tiny 91.5 cid Miller engine. This secured Lockhart’s reputation as one of the world’s top drivers. His success was largely due to his engineering ability and willingness to quickly make any changes necessary for the car to go faster.
As Stutz Motor Car sales sagged, Frederick Moskovics decided he needed publicity to find new markets for his automobile. He sponsored Lockhart to design and drive a super-car, at a time when many top drivers attempted record runs on the sands of Daytona Beach during the winter. Most of the record holders of the time used massive engines, some having displacements of up to 4900 inches. Some were powered by aircraft engines. The Stutz “Blackhawk Special” used a 16-cylinder motor, composed of two banks of eight cylinders, forming a “V” at a 30-degree angle. The cylinders displaced a total volume of 181 cubic inches.
During a Daytona Beach run on Feb 22, 1928, at approximately 225 mph, nearly 20 mph quicker than the previous record, the Blackhawk Special apparently dug into an irregularity in the sand. It flipped violently, end over end, into the ocean. Lockhart was rescued by spectators, and the Blackhawk Special was salvaged for repairs, back in Indianapolis.
Lockhart's First Wreck
Lockhart tried again on 25 April. As the car approached the timing wire to end the run, a tire exploded, and the Blackhawk again tumbled end over end, coming to rest 140 feet from where it began its precarious flight. Lockhart’s lifeless body lay fifty feet from the wreck.
Lockhart's Fatal Wreck
In Daytona, he’d received a letter from his mother, begging for ten bucks. When his mother received his response, “He didn’t mention the money. He just said, ‘Ma, I have the world by the horns. You’ll never have to push a needle again. I’ll never have to work anymore. Frank’”
The young man who tamed Indianapolis Motor Speedway at twenty-three years of age was dead at twenty-five. The Stutz Motor Car Company abandoned all racing activities. A few months short of the Indy 500, the magnificent Miller that Lockhart and Olson had prepared had no driver. Harry Miller convinced Ray Keech to drive the Simplex Piston Ring Special.