CHAMPCAR/CART: Ted Horn retrospective

CHAMPCAR/CART: Ted Horn retrospective
Mar 27, 1996, 5:35 AM

TED HORN Lee [Autorace listserver owner] asked me if I wouldn't do a short bio on Ted Horn. With an article coming up in Open Wheel magazine it would be nice to compare notes. Ted was born Eylard Theodore Von Horn on Feb. 27th, 1910. His ...


Lee [Autorace listserver owner] asked me if I wouldn't do a short bio on Ted Horn. With an article coming up in Open Wheel magazine it would be nice to compare notes.

Ted was born Eylard Theodore Von Horn on Feb. 27th, 1910. His parents Armandus Henry and Mary Horn were theatre players in the Cincinati German Theatre. Four years later they moved to Pittsburgh, the German Theatre having disbanded due to WW-I. Papa Horn also dropped the prefix Von around that time as well.

Eylard soon became Ted and he displayed a talent for writing, peotry, and practical jokes as a kid. In 1920 the Horns moved to California and made home in San Mateo. There he built his first jalopy. The family moved to L.A. and papa Horn allowed they should take their jalopy, too. It made the trip but required a complete overhaul....after which it ended up around a light pole after having gone to be "tested".

Officer 50 had stopped Ted several times for speeding so he tells him "Tell you what you do. You go to San Jose Sunday; theres a race track there and usually more cars than drivers. Get one of those cars and when you get all the speed you have out of your system, come back to the station house and get your car". Ted appeared at San Jose that Sunday in 1926 and found an unoccupied race car. Trouble was it was a stock Chevy built by a blind man. It had never run....but it did this day---ran until the pistons fused with the cylinder walls and the motor became a motlen mass. The race hadn't started yet! Ted went back the following week but no ride. His face became familar at the track and one day car owner Noel Bullock told him, "come down to Banning next Sunday and I'll give you a ride in my Rajo. Its a pretty good car, won Pikes Peak once". Banning and Bullock saw Ted the following Sunday as Ted locked wheels with Ted Simpson and Ted and the Rajo disappeared through the fence and out of the park. The following week Officer 50 got a call from the young boy for the return of one highway car. That wasn't the end for Ted, though. For two years he tried stock car racing, outlaw barnstorming and then finally an offer to appear at Ascot.

At Legion Ascot, home of the imortals...Francis Quinn, Walt May, Carl Ryder, Stubby Stubblefield, Swede Smith, Shorty Cantlon, Ernie Triplett, Mel Kenealy, Babe Stapp, Bill Cummings, Arvol Brunmeir, Kelly Petillo, Al Gordon, Les Spangler, Lou Moore, Wilbur Shaw, Chet Gardner, Billy Winn, Joe Russo, Cliff Bergere, Floyd Roberts, and even Ralph DePalma...Ted got his first ride in a real race car. Tightly strapped in the cockpit, Ted turned his first 3 laps slowly to allow the oil to warm. Then down went his foot. No goggles, eyes almost shut, he notes he's through the turn and picking up speed on the back stretch. This was the life, head in the wind, engine screaming...the pair sailed into the turn. Suddenly a crash--100 feet of guardrail disappeared and so did the race car & Ted. That night a bargain was made between Ted and papa Horn. Ted was "permitted" to keep his job as a photo engraver and not have to become a virtuoso horn player. Most of the bargain was kept and no Horn, save that which sports writers were to blow about him, was ever tooted by Eylard Thodore Horn.

Legion Ascot Speedway was a 5/8 mile, banked dirt oval with 60% of its length taken up in turns. It ran weekle events year round and attracted the best that racing had to offer. Indy winnners Wibur Shaw, Lou Meyer, Ralph DePalma, Mauri Rose, Floyd Davis, Floyd Roberts and Kelly Petillo were regular competitors. Ascot was the first to present night racing on a regular basis. It features color, uniformed attendants, a band, a program of point competition under the AAA banner that set the standard for many a race track to come. Movie stars rubbed shoulders with the rich an famous and served in honorary capacities.....they sought the honor. Average attendance jumped to 12,000 making auto racing the most popular sport on the west coast.

Teds first appearence here in 1931 was dismal to say the least. He had bought the Rajo from a few years earlier but failed to have his AAA driving permit for the opener. Two weeks later he had the permit but the Rajo was sick. Ted talked his way into a ride in the L&C special. Once again Ted journeyed onto the hallowed oiled surface only to disappear over the south brim into the darkness, hit a tree, then turn over. A crushed foot and badly burned back kept Ted in the hospital many weeks. Ted returned in late October and completed his first complete time trial...33.84 slowest on the program by a full second. The next week 35.20 and the next week 34.80. Going nowhere fast! But he was scoring elsewhere. Everyone liked the good humored kid with the ever ready grin and determination to become a race driver. One night Chet Gardner, second only in points to the unbeatable Ernie Triplett that season, paid a visit to the Horn pit. "Ted, your trouble is getting out of the turns. Get up off the pole, let the nose down and when you feel its going to spin, bring the wheels back straight. Then you'll find you're out of the turn. The faster your speed on the stretch, the higher you go in the turn. Soon you will find the groove and then you will get to race". That favor and word of advice turned the trick. And in the years to come Ted paid it back both with his help to young racers and in his ability. That night Ted turned the oval in 31.30, beating both Floyd Davis and Floyd Roberts. At the end of the season Ted finished in 83rd place with 3/4 of one point. None were lower.

I took time to point this out for the benefit of any racers or would be racers who may see some rough times. The race to greatness is not always swift and takes dedication and patience....but hang in there, who knows what may come of it.

The Crowd Roars staring Jimmy Cagney and Joan Blondell came out in 1932. Most of the filming was at Ascot and race drivers, including Ted Horn were used in the movie. The crowds swelled as many of the movie stars made Ascot a weekly happening. Cagney, Gable, Faribanks, Robinson, Blondell, Ann Devorak and more made the races the in thing for Southern California. Another name appeared that year that was to impact Ted for years to come. Rex Mays took an "A" class car for his first AAA ride ever winning the 25 lap event as Ted finished second. Ted finished 20th in the point standings with 84.8 points. Besides his talk with Gordon and introduction to Rex Mays, Ted had his first feature win that year and made more money in 2 months racing than 2 years as an engraver!

1933 was a good year for Ted, finishing 2nd in the "B" point standings. Rex Mays astonished everyone by finishing second in the "A" point standings to Al Gordon.

1934 was an ill-fated year for auto racing. Specifications were changed and thus the season started late. Harry Hartz, 1926 Natonal Champ sais the new rules would make all cars more evenly matched and discourage parades. For Ted it was a good year...for the most part. He hooked up with the Ford team for two Gilmore Mines Field road races. On the strength of these races he got his first Indy ride. At El Centro Ernie Triplett came out of "retirement" for a comeback effort. On the 7th lap a car stalled in the groove. Swede Smith hit the car and did a slow roll. Hap Hafferly, Swede's pit hand went to the rescue. He ran in front of Triplett who swerved in an unsuccessful attempt to miss him. Triplett hit Smith's machine and within hours Triplett, Smith, and Hafferly were dead. This lead to the incident I mention before where Ted and some other drivers "kidnapped" a reporter who showed up at the Triplett funeral. It was also in '34 that Ted met Pappy Hankinson, eastern promoter come west looking for drivers. The two became a pair in later years on the famous Hankinson Fair Circuit. Ted talked over his decision with car owner, Bill Rasor, just before Indy. After watching the 500, Ted and the Rasor, Mc Dowell Offy headed for Winchester with Rex Mays. Ted had both the McDowell and Babe Stapps number 10 at Winchester. He had the number 10 at the start of the feature but a rock in the head ended the race for him. Mays went on for the win, Ted went for 33 stitches. Rex headed back west and Ted headed for Paterson New Jersey to hook up for the rest of his life with Dick Simonek in the Paterrson Gasolene alley. His first race was to be at Hohokus, N.J. He could be seen walking the 1/2 mile track studying the surface before the race. Fourteen years later he could be seen doing the same thing at DuQuoin Ill. one hour before his last race.

Ted made his first real trip to Indy in 1935. By the way, in 1935 the Indy race came right after Phoenix where Ted and tam mate Bobby Sall did quite well. It was at Phoenix that Harry Miller contacted Ted. Miller and Preston Tucker (yes Tucker builder of THE Tucker) had gotten together with Ford to build an Indy car team. The whole thing was really Tucker's idea. Ford setup a racing division for the effort. Miller would be the chief engineer. Other team members were Pete De Paolo and Harry Hartz. Harry was the one who selected Horn as a driver. Bobby Sall was also scheduled to get one of the 10 cars. Of course, Tucker was Tucker and Ford was Ford and engineers were engineers and 10 cars never made it. When the cars arrived at Indy, DePaolo took one look and the deal was off. "The steering box is mounted alongside the block where constant heat would prevail. I informed Miller that it would be impossible to keep lubrication in the unit, in addition to the fact that the steering gear unit resembeled the size of a gear driven oil pump. He pleaded with me to take it for a few laps for the Ford people. I did so only to learn that the gear box tightened up going out of the south east turn almost causing me to end up on the golf course. Then and there I resigned as Captain of The Ford V8 Racing Team." Qualifying in 1935 was 10 laps (25 miles) on the brick surface. Ted qualified the first of the six Fords at 115. He liked front wheel drive cars. He liked the license it gave to stand on it well into the turns. But this car made him worry. Each of the four turns seemed different each time he went through them. He made plans to run a steady race. Bo Huckman was Ted's riding mechanic and they started in the 9th row. Ted waved good luck to Clay Heatherly on his left and they were off. Heatherly got away from him but no one got by him. The yellow came out, the reason was a hole in the north turn fence.....Heatherly had gone through the hole, his luck ran out just 15 minutes after the good luck wave. Al Gordon was standing by the hole and must've been involved as well. Ted was gripping the wheel with both hands now to get around the corners. The other Fords had gone out and now Ted was pulling in. A jack went under the car and the crew tried to turn the wheels....they wouldn't budge. That was the first and last time Ted Horn got a DNF at the Indy 500. His Indy record went like this:

Year Car Qualification Finish 1935 Ford V8 115.213 14 (145 laps) 1936 Hartz-Miller 116.564 2 1937 Hartz-Miller 118.220 3 1938 Hartz-Miller 121.327 4 1939 Boyle-Miller 127.723 4 1940 Boyle-Miller 125.545 4 (race flagged after 199 laps) 1941 Thorne Sparks 124.297 3 1946 Boyle-Maserati 123.980 3 1947 Boyle-Maserati 126.564 3 1948 Bennet-Maserati 126.365 4

To my knowlege no other driver has a more consistant history at the Indy 500. This at a time when the track was made of brick, the tires narrow, the cars heavy, drum brakes, spoked wheels and a grundle of other things. Surely the man deserves the place he holds in the racing hall of fame.

Much if not all of the previous chapters have been from the book The Life Of Ted Horn, old pictures and news articles, and stories from my dad. The final chapter is mostly from my own memory as I went to every sprint race east of the Mississippi, most of the big car races and Indy from 1946 to 1948. That was the payment to a little boy for holding the light, getting lunch, and other secret missions the crew would send me on.

1946 was an easy year for THE Team (Ted Horn Racing Enterprises). Ted was turned down by the armed services (too many trips over the wall) and so he and Dick Simonec turned gasolene alley to making things for the war effort. Probably for this reason Ted's equipment was in better shape after the war years than his competitors. The AAA championship was a walk away for Ted in '46. He and Pappy Hankinson had jumped AAA sanction and run the Hankinson Fair circuit. Pappy's circuit had a lot to do with forming other local sanctioning bodies, such as ARDC. So Ted and his equipment weren't rusty when racing resumed in earnest in '46.

1947 was a war between Horn and Holland (with a bed of Roses on the side in the form of Mauri). Every week the points scores were posted at the Patterson fire house where they were received by telegraph. To score as many points as possible Ted went everywhere. The best dual I remember was between Horn and Spider Web at Dayton. Web had held strong there and when Jug pulled in with the car the whole infield came alive. The ensuing battle made front page headlines. The points battle came down to Arlington Downs, Texas. Ted had to finish 3rd or better to insure the championship. Holland had to win with Ted 4th or farther back. If you're into stats you know other possible combinations are many. Holland couldn't qualify and borrowed a car. But the borrowed ride failed early in the race. The rail birds comment was, "it's Horn's now, he can stroke to the finish". But no, Ted gave Beauty her head and for one of the few times in her life she flew. Past Mays, a wave as she goes by Bettenhausen and down the back stretch. And then the same thing all over, the impossible second wave as he passes the Tinley Terror again. ...Mays is out. And out of turn four Beauty heads for the checker.... passing Tony for the third time. The championship was his for a second time. Finishing 3 laps ahead of the second place car! Stroke to a finish...not this champion. Everyone was happy. My dad had tears in his eyes, Jughead was outright crying and laughing at the same time, and Ted was happy. No towel to wipe his face, no change of clothes this time. The trophies were handed to him in victory lane and the pictures taken. The ride home in Johnny's Hudson was one of the happiest I remember.

1948 was one of my favorite and worst years at the same time. My help at the shop became a 3 or 4 night a week thing. Visiting drivers would stop at our house to visit, eat and celebrate. Wherever they went racing, I went, too. The rest of the family might stay home, but I went with dad. Ted sewed up the championship early in '48. The first ever 3 time consecutive National Champion. Until Cale Yarborough came along, the only 3 time consecutive champion in major U.S racing. Ted and Baby won every race they entered that year, and we were there to see Tommy Hinnershitz and BT be the only combination to beat Ted and Baby that year. Then Ted went to DuQuoin. of the few we didn't go to. At the track Ted was talkative to the point of butting in to conversations....not like him at all. On race day his wife complained that the only dress she had left was green. Ted told her to wear it anyway. Then he did something really unbelievable for him. He asked track steward Ike Welch, "can I park my car with my wife and kids behind the pit? Got a reason". Ike told him to go ahead. It was a cold, damp day. Looking up at the sparsely populated stands, Duke Dinsmore wondered what we're doing here today. Ain't no one there to watch and Teds got the Championship! Green tells Welch in the Pace car, "Whats the matter with these guys, can't get em to line up? Act like they don't want to race." After 4 laps of jockeying around the green drops. Down into 1, off 2, hard into 3 and off 4. Down the home straight into 1, dirt, dust, a white car with blue tail flys into the air, then another blue car, and the rest of the field makes its way out of two onto the back stretch. Here comes the yellow, then the red. There about 4 feet from the guard rail lies Ted Horn, one boot off and he isn't moving. The other driver, Johnny Mantz (I think) is OK. In Ted's left boot is a quarter, on the dash a St. Christophers medal, and in the car behind the pit, his family. My dad showed me Ted's picture in the paper, which was nothing new, but this time it was different. We didn't go to another car race til the late 50s. Rex Mays put his car on the trailer and left only to be killed a year later at Del Mar (I think). Of the funeral, besides all the racing greats and movie people, I remember the maroon and white flower blanket with the gold #1. Maroon and gold were baby's colors and she never let us down. Ted was buried in Cedar Lawn cemetery. I'm not sure if thats in Clifton, Patterson, or Hawthorne.. .but you used to be able to see it from Rt. 46. Besides his wife and mom, Ted left three daughters. Gayleen was born Feb. 8 (my birthday) 1949. As far as I know you can find her keeping score at Williams Grove and Watkins Glen. I don't know what her last name is now, you'd have to do some detective work. Dick Simonec, last I knew, still has a shop in Patterson....if you wanted a USAC license in the North East you had to see him (according to my USAC handbook). Hope I didn't waste server space with this...see how it compares with Open Wheel...and if there are any questions brought up from the article in Open em....might have an answer.

Jack Durbin Motorsport News International (Moderators for "") Homepage

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Ralph DePalma , Dick Simon , Cale Yarborough
Teams Williams
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