13/7/1914 - 27/6/1994
One of the best Midget drivers in the history of the sport. Won the Indy 500 at his 12th attempt in 1957. Sam Hanks died 28 years ago, he was 80
The 1953 National Driving Champion won his first Midget Championship in 1937 on the west coast with the AMA circuit. He became a “barnstormer,” racing on board tracks at Soldier Field in Chicago and the Los Angeles Coliseum. He purchased a Richter-built, Offenhauser-powered midget in 1939 and drove it to literally hundreds of feature victories from coast to coast, making it the single-winningest racing car in the history of the sport. Hanks won the first two board track features at Soldier Field in 1939.
Hanks won the 1940 VFW Motor City Speedway and the 1946 URA Blue Circuit Championships before capturing the 1949 AAA National Midget title. On August 17, 1946, a crowd of 65,128 fans crushed into the Los Angeles Coliseum to witness Hanks win the 250 lap "Gold Cup" in his Richter-built Offy. Sam won the “Night Before the 500” midget race in 1947 and campaigned the cars through the bleak period of the early 1950s when top name drivers help compensate for short fields.
In 1957 George Salih offered Sam the chance to drive his radically new race car with the Offenhauser engine mounted on its side with the cylinders in a transverse lateral plane, and a low silhouette. Sam was thrilled with the offer and qualified 13th and moved up to fourth position by the 12th lap. After a battle with Paul Russo's Novi where it was Novi power vs Salih handling, Sam took control by lap 40 and went on to win at a new record speed of 135.601mph. Immediately after bringing the car to Victory Lane, Sam announced his retirement from driving. It wasn't his actual last race as he honored a promise to compete in a California stock car race. The popular California competitor later drove the pace car at Indianapolis from 1958 through 1963.
Sam's retirement from driving did not preclude his participation in racing, serving as the Director of Competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1958 through 1979 and as a consultant to numerous companies. Sam enjoyed his active retirement in Pacific Palisades with his wife Alice.