Ted Horn, (February 27, 1910–October 10, 1948), was a three-time (1946-1948) American Automobile Association National Champion. He was careful, methodical and superstitious and he was also one of the most consistent drivers in big-time open-wheel racing with an enviable record of 24 victories, 12 seconds and 13 thirds in 71 Championship events.
Although born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Horn’s family settled in Glendale, California. While on his way to work one day at the Los Angeles Times he was stopped for speeding.
Instead of getting a ticket, the policeman told Horn to go to San Jose Speedway – where there were usually more cars than drivers – and find a car owner willing to let him drive. Then, when he got “his desire to speed” out of his system, he’d get his impounded street car back.
Well, Horn got a ride and liked it so much that he stayed with it. After a few veteran drivers gave the 21-year-old rookie a couple of tips, he began to make a name for himself on the famous old Los Angeles 5/8-mile oiled-dirt layout known as Legion Ascot Speedway.
Horn gave up racing for a while after he suffered a broken foot and burns which kept him sidelined for several months. He had also promised his concerned parents that he would stop racing but three years later he got back into racing and began to attract a great deal of attention.
After traveling throughout the Midwest and East where there were more races and opportunities, Horn – who walked each track before a race – got his first ride in the Indianapolis 500 in 1935 in one of the black and white two-man Ford V-8s built by Harry Miller and conceived by Preston Tucker and the Ford Motor Company. Alas a frozen steering box forced him to pull out of the race after 145 laps and he was credited with finishing in 16th place.
In 1936, Horn drove a two-man Miller owned by 1926 AAA Champion Harry Hartz and finished second to Louis Meyer. This run impressed a lot of people – including Meyer – and it was the beginning of a long stretch of success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Horn then ran in two more Indy 500s for Hartz and finished third in a two-man supercharged front-drive Miller in 1937 and fourth in its single-seat edition in 1938.
In 1939-1940, Horn had two fourths at the Speedway in “Umbrella Mike” Boyle’s front-drive Millers and he was third in 1941 in Art Sparks’ one-off supercharged 6-cylinder entry.
Upon America’s involvement in World War II, Horn volunteered for service but he was rejected due to his racing injuries.
When the war ended and limited racing started again in late 1945, the driver with the Errol Flynn-style moustache won all seven Sprint Car events that he entered in his favorite “half-mile ride” – his white and maroon Riverside Tire Special known as “Baby.”
Racing resumed in full in 1946 and Horn was ready. During the next three years he finished third twice (1946 & 1947) and fourth once (1948) at Indianapolis in the red-and-white No. 29 Boyle (1946) and black-and-gold No. 1 Henning (1947 & 1948) Maseratis.
While Horn never won the Indianapolis 500, his nine-straight Top-4 finishes in 10 years at the Speedway is the best ever. And he was always a favorite to win the Memorial Day classic as he completed 1,944 out of a possible 2,000 laps – which is an amazing 97 percent.
Ted Horn’s career, however, came to a tragic end on October 10, 1948, at the one-mile dirt track in DuQuoin, Illinois.
He had already clinched his third-straight AAA National Driving Championship – a first in the series but on the second lap of the 100-mile race a broken wheel spindle caused his No. 1 Horn Offy to flip high into the air and he was thrown from his car onto the track.
Taken to the hospital with serious injuries, the 38-year-old racer died a short time later.