Although born in Surrey, England, Henry Banks (June 14, 1913 – December 18, 1994) he grew up in Royal Oak, Michigan. Banks was an outstanding Midget and Championship Car racer who was always seen as soft-spoken and well-mannered. However, the keys to his success on the race track was the fact that while always fast, Banks was also always easy on his equipment and that kind of behavior in the cockpit of a racing car was one that made car owners happy and usually led to a great deal of success.
The son of European race-car driver William Banks who competed from 1904-1908, the second-generation speedster began his career at age 19 when he drove a Model A Ford Miller Sprint Car in “outlaw” and American Automobile Association events in Michigan and Ohio.
In his first race at Bay City, Michigan, Banks crashed his car. But two weeks later he drove the same car into Victory Lane for the first time at Davidson, Michigan, and was a consistent winner for the rest of the 1932 season.
Now known as the “King of The Outlaws,” Banks took a job as test driver for the old Oakland Pontiac Motor Company at the General Motors proving grounds in 1933 and drove race cars only on the weekends. He kept that job until 1936 when he quit to go racing full-time.
Banks was the first driver to pass the Rookie Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it was implemented there in 1936 in order to make sure that the new drivers that were trying to race at the Speedway had what it took to run safely on the 2.5-mile “Brickyard.”
However, while he drove in the Indianapolis 500 in a relief role on three occasions (1937 & 1939-1940), he never won “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” as his best finish in six starts (1938, 1946-1947 & 1950-1952) was his sixth in 1951 in the No. 1 Blue Crown Special.
Of course, the No. 1 on Banks’ blue, red and white Lindsey Hopkins Offy that year indicated that he was the 1950 American Automobile Association National Champion.
However since he did not finish in the Top-12 at Indianapolis in 1950, he did not get any Championship points. So, as a result of this old style of awarding points, he became the first driver in AAA history since Peter DePaolo in 1927 to win the National Driving Championship without benefit of points earned in the 500-Mile Race.
The Midgets, though, were another area where Banks made his presence known and he won the 1941 American Racing Driver’s Club Championship.
Then, during World War II, he worked at the Aircraft Engine Division of Ford Motor Company which was building R-2800 aircraft engines under license from Pratt & Whitney. And then later during the war he was the company’s representative on the West Coast.
When the war ended, Banks got back into racing and won 30 Midget feature races in 1947 and he was second to 1950 AAA National Midget Driving Champion Bill Vukovich.
The runner-up to Tony Bettenhausen in the 1951 National Driving Championship, Banks had a “fair-play” attitude that also served him well and this kind of thing was easily seen at 1941 Midget race at the old Freeport (N.Y.) Stadium out on Long Island when a pair of hard-driving competitors by the names of Shorty Sorensen and Harry McQuinn showed up to race.
Disheartened at Sorensen and McQuinn’s presence, a group of drivers told the promoter that they would load-up their Midgets and leave. Banks stayed and raced.
On May 22, 1954, Henry Banks hung up his racing helmet for good and went back to work at Ford’s Aircraft Division, supervising the operation in seven states. But in 1959 he was hired by the United States Auto Club Board of Directors to become its Director of Competition and he served in that capacity with distinction for some 10 years.