FRANK LOCKHART AND THE LAND SPEED RECORD
© John R. Bayer
Of all the racing careers there have been in America, among the brightest has always been Frank Stallworth Lockhart. His career packed, death came too soon, his goal in reach. Frank’s story is also the story of the Stutz Black Hawk Special.
Born in 1903 in Dayton, Ohio, Frank’s family moved to the Los Angeles area in his childhood. As a teen, Frank decided he must have a racing car. Gathering a free chassis and parts from his work at Ray McDowell’s garage, Frank had the car running shortly, driving so hard in his first race that he literally melted the exhaust manifold! Obtaining a better engine, the wins then began. By 1925 Frank’s success earned him finer mounts and he found himself on top the Pacific Coast circuit. He traveled to Indy the following spring, to watch the race and maybe bum a couple of practice laps…
Frank, having been a part of the Miller team, travelled to Indy for the first time. He had the chance to drive Bennett Hill's Miller in practice. He set a one-lap qualifying record at 115.448 mph with a car not at the top of the pole, his first time on the track! Frank was assured they’d call on him if Hill needed relief.
CHANCE AND TRIUMPH
Memorial Day dawned, rain predicted. Driver Pete Kreis had pneumonia and Frank the rookie got the nod to sit in. The record crowd was about to see an upset from the 7th row - by lap three, he was in 5th place; one more, he was fourth! The leaders, signaled of Frank’s approach, increased the pace. By lap 50, Lockhart was second. Then the rains came; most took to the pits, but not Frank. The #15 Miller was 1st after 9 more laps! Frank led 12 laps later when a downpour suspended racing. Fast forward 75 minutes and a restart. Then on lap 93, Frank finally pits. Harry Hartz then leads, but only for five laps, when he also pits; Lockhart’s back in front. The rain returns at 400 miles, but this time it’s over. Frank, leading by two laps, is declared the winner!
KEEP ON ROLLING
Frank continued winning that summer, putting him in contention for the AAA National Championship. Car troubles for Frank saw Harry Hartz number one, with Lockhart second. The team picked up Ernie Olson as mechanic as a result of the successful season.
When Frank’s car held up he was almost unbeatable, but he always pushed, his engines eventually pulling 285 hp at 8,000 rpm, vs. 154hp/7,000 from the factory. This output cost, breaking or bending valves. Sensing the supercharger was the problem, Lockhart rigged a power take-off on the transmission of his street Buick so he could experiment, finding that the air exiting the supercharger was red hot – this was the intake air!
ENTER THE WEISELS
Frank contacted John Weisel, whom he knew from Harry Miller’s. Zenas and brother John were engineers and the trained help Frank needed.
The intercooler was the big solution - invented by Frank, refined by the team. Still in use today, the design is substantially unchanged. In the first test, the car went more than 8.5 mph faster! In March at Culver City, the device had its first competition, setting a track record of 142.2 mph. Frank was now poised to attempt more at a "whistle stop" in the high desert of California named after the Corum brothers.
MUROC DRY LAKE
A small white single-seater veered around an oval on the hard lakebed. Through the mile, a speed of 171.02 mph was recorded - within the last 12 months, the absolute world speed record had stood at 170.6 mph – from a purpose-built car driven by 443 c.i., vs. Lockhart’s 91.5 c.i. Miller, modified only by a gearing change, wheel discs, and removal of the tiny windshield!
ANOTHER WINNING SEASON AND INNOVATIONS
At Indy this year, Lockhart sat on the first row, as the race laps ticked off, no one came close. Unfortunately, a connecting rod gave. Ernie and Frank set about redesigning the rods. The team was also first to field the locked differential, radius rods, and modern type wheel bearings.
1927 victories were topped at Cleveland with more records, winning the 100-miler, breaking all international records from 1-100 miles, and averaging 80 mph for the day – 101 records in a day!
LOCKHART THE MAN
Though immersed in cars, Frank courted and married Ella, the only woman he ever dated. She was a kindred spirit often found helping out in the garage. Frank, who stood only 5’3” and weighed but 135 pounds still looked more like a teenager than his 24 years.
ENTER MOSCOVICS AND STUTZ
Frank was prospering at last, but set that aside to wager it all on this new venture. Ernie Olson believed Frank should focus on the champ circuit, and left the team. Jimmy Lee and Jean Marcenac replaced Olson.
Frank had gone to Harry Miller for backing; the answer was a definite “NO”. Timing is everything; the reconstituted Stutz Company headed by Fred Moscovics was looking to again make a name for itself. Moscovics’ acquaintances fronted $20,000, Fred put up $15K of his own, plus use of Stutz shops. The one condition was the machine bear the moniker “Stutz Black Hawk Special – Made in Indianapolis”. Fred said of Frank, “…that kid is by far the most extraordinary person I have ever met; he is without doubt the greatest mixture of driver and mechanic in the world today”.
THE BLACK HAWK
In early 1928, an idea Frank had been working on since Muroc appeared, in the slippery form of the “Stutz Black Hawk Special” record-breaker. Looking like something out of Buck Rogers, it was revolutionary.
Team Lockhart was way ahead in their obsession with power-to-weight ratio. Typically, designers had to apply huge power increases by adding cubic inches, meaning added weight, needing even more power, a classic vicious circle, to gain a few mph. Frank had prophetically seen the future at Muroc; if you kept your frontal area and your weight down, much less power was required. That was it – almost miraculously simple.
The team, aware of wind tunnels, designed the car with tightly cloaked bodywork. Wheel spats were needed because air pressure would wobble open wheels. The front spats turned with the wheels, with the center of pressure aft of the kingpins, causing sluggishness in steering, but lending stability. Models of the Muroc car and the proposed beach car were constructed and compared, with Curtiss Co. tunnel test revealing a top end of 283 mph for the beach car, with similar results at the Army’s McCook Field! The existing LSR stood at a mere 203 mph; the team shot for 225 mph. Frank thought he’d run two 91 engines in tandem, for no more frontal area than a standard Miller. Zenas convinced him to run the two blocks parallel on a common crankcase; the car was still very narrow, the center body scaled to the width of Frank’s shoulders.
The Black Hawk would be heavier than a standard 91, but featherweight compared to Seagrave’s Sunbeam. The British contender was 8,000 lbs, carrying a 2,745 c.i. engine producing 1,000 hp. Lockhart’s was only 2,800 lbs and 183 c.i., but produced 570 hp at 8,100 rpm. The Stutz had a 6:1 advantage.
A big question was tires; no one had much knowledge of dynamics. They set up a test machine to see the effects of a blow-out at 225, fired a shotgun at the tire, and vibration tore the machine to pieces. Frank intended to use proven Firestones, but a newcomer, Mason, put up $20,000 in sponsorship and free tires - or a third manufacturer, Dickinson, may have provided them (see the "Tire Mystery").
There were other challenges: the suspension needed to be very rigid; to help keep Frank from loss of control due to gusting winds or shifting sands, the steering wheel would also travel very narrowly. Intercoolers were in the plans from the start, flush with the hood and cooled by airflow. New was an ice tank, replacing the usual radiator/grille and associated drag caused by it. Another recent innovation was the full belly pan.
The crew was pushed; on the drawing boards for ten months, the car was constructed in three! Three months can be eternal when making, testing, and remaking parts. Moscovics said often the crew would have to be ordered home, or they’d work all night. In February, 1928, they were ready.
It was almost over before it started; the car wouldn’t run above 180. Were they all wrong? In the Stutz shops, the engines ran great; now they were starving. Days went by. The intakes had been made flush with the skin, and this was thought to be the issue. It has been widely reported small scoops were made to solve this problem, but in photos (including one of the last run) they are absent, so this piece remains a mystery.
The weather then kicked up, rain and wind so heavy the timing crew only gave Frank until the 22nd. The day of 22 February dawned with squalls passing through the Ormond area, putting ripples in the beach that could throw a car at speed. Visibility was down to a half-mile or less.
The day was waning, with little improvement. Soon, however, a whine was heard from two superchargers. The Black Hawk was reported at over 225 mph when without warning it veered and flipped into the surf, remarkably landing upright but with Lockhart trapped in the wreckage.
One of Frank’s hands was seen moving; Moscovics, first on scene, saved him by holding his head above water. A crowd materialized with a rope and pulled the car ashore. Frank’s injuries were minor for a flip into the surf at 200+ mph – cut tendons, small cut on chin, mild concussion. The car was little damaged; Moscovics ordered it back on the train to Indy immediately. Frank returned to Indy as hero. The car was soon repaired, but Moscovics wanted Frank to wait until the next year; he was back on the beach in two months.
Frank appeared calm as he posed for photos that sunny April day in front of the Sheraton Plaza Hotel on Daytona. The beach was smooth and hard. Lockhart began warm-ups, seeing a time of 198.29 mph, a class record, on his final practice. Frank got on the brakes a little at the end of the run, skidding 100 feet. He lined up for the first record attempt. Observers saw him coming estimated at over 220 mph approaching the measured mile and still accelerating.
Suddenly, there was a roostertail of sand from a rear tire, a flash of metal, a ‘pop’ heard by some. The car skidded, Frank fighting; it seemed for a moment he would pull it out. Then the Black Hawk skidded even more radically and literally leapt into the air. Coming down sharply, the car buried its nose, and Lockhart was thrown down the beach, mortally injured.
When officials examined the course and the marks the car made, they found a clam shell in the skid left at the end of his last practice, evidence the shell had sliced the tire.
The editorial staff of the New York Herald said, as others did, that Frank was “… the latest sacrifice on the altar of speed’, but Frank had achieved his goal, even if it wasn’t official, that last run.
Lockhart left a legacy not to be forgotten. The designer of the Tucker, Alex Tremulis, paid tribute over 20 years later, with the front skirted fenders on the Tucker ’48. Frank’s intercoolers revolutionized championship racing. Connecting rods and other features with Lockhart mods saw reliability edge higher. Lockhart’s 91 engines were unbeatable in other hands until the end of the formula.
The remnants of Frank’s beach car also lived on; the engine was salvaged, and, when the larger formula reigned at Indy once again, set new records. It qualified at the front as long as 18 years later, and still exists in the museum at Indianapolis, where anyone familiar with Frank Lockhart and the Stutz Black Hawk Special may ponder what might have been.