The late 1920s were an amazing time in America. The world was full of innovation and the US was enjoying unparalleled industrial prosperity. If you were to sit down to enjoy dinner with people of that time, conversations would include icons like Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, and Frank Lockhart. While the first two are still widely known, the latter has faded from memory – which brings me to this story…
We were enjoying a time of peace in between the two World Wars – and our collective energies were being spent on pushing the boundaries of invention. The automobile was taking over and automotive racing was gaining widespread popularity on the various board tracks and courses springing up across the nation.
Photo courtesy of Lattin collection.
A young man living in California, Frank Lockhart was making a name for himself both at the famed brick Indianapolis Speedway and on board tracks. In his rookie year, he won the 1926 Indy 500 – the most popular race of the time. Just as it would be now, this was an unheard of feat for a rookie, and such a young one at that – Frank was just 23 years old.
Having dabbled with friends involved in land speed racing at Muroc Dry Lake, now Edwards Air Force Base, Frank had his own ideas of how he could blow existing records out of the water. An accomplished engineer, he reasoned that by using a much lighter and more streamlined vehicle he would be able to surpass the current record of 203 mph (which was constantly moving upward).
By 1927, a very accomplished racer, Frank had been consumed by land speed racing. Up to this point, his best time had been 167 mph. Using his background in automobile design, he began drawing out plans to build his dream.
Those plans began to be put into action once Fred Moskovics, president of Stutz Motor Car Co, came on board and agreed to largely fund the project. Although the Stutz name was on the side of the car, it was designed by Frank himself and the Weisel brothers from Los Angeles. The engine was a V16, made from two Miller straight-eight cylinders, making a huge 180.4 cubic-inch rocket.
Adding to the engine’s dominance was Frank’s own designed and patented intercooler alongside a twin supercharger that was hung off the front. Frank had gotten great results with the design while racing at Muroc and wanted to bring it to play in his dream car.
Photo courtesy of Lattin collection.
The Stutz Black Hawk was finished by February 1928 and taken to Daytona Beach, Florida. Running on the hard-packed sand, this is where all the huge records of the time were being made. On the February 19th he made his first run, headed into the wind, and Frank surpassed 200 mph for the first time. In order to officially set a record, the time must be upheld during a second return pass, but the Blackhawk’s clutch gave out on the second run. Getting the car back together, on February 22nd Frank would try again. With his speed raging over 200 mph he encountered a squall, leaving him blinded by rain, sending him into the water. He suffered from serious bruising, severed tendons and serious shock after being pulled onto the beach by on lookers.
The mangled wreckage was taken to the shop in Indianapolis where it was thrashed on for two months, until the Stutz Black Hawk was again complete and ready for a record-breaking run. Quickly recovering from his own injuries, Frank arrived to the same beach in Daytona on the 20th of April to try again. The car was troubled with performance issues and only achieved a 200.3 mph confirmed time. Frank thought the out-of-tune carburetors may be the issue and needed some love.
After a few days of tuning the motor and checking the car over, Frank was ready once again to go for the record. On April 25, 1928 an initial test run proved the tuning had worked and the engine and car were performing flawlessly. Lockhart was ready to run. The first timed run was recorded at 203.50 mph, but Frank knew he had much more power and that the record was well within reach. During his return run, he raced at a speed of over 220 mph.
With success within reach, the Black Hawk’s right rear tire skidded and popped, sending the car toppling end over end and ultimately flinging Frank out of the car to his death. At just 25 years old, Frank Lockhart had done more during 5 years of racing than most do in a lifetime.
Photo courtesy of Lattin collection. Check out this video for footage of the crash.
Continue with the story of the re-creation of the Stutz Black Hawk (as pictured throughout the article), Recreating the Stutz Black Hawk. For more incredible land speed racing stories, check out these: