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Henry Banks

Full Name:
Henry E Banks
14th June 1913
Croydon, Surrey (GB)
18th December 1994 (Aged 81)
Indianapolis, Indiana
Most recent race (in database):

Although born in England and his father had raced French De Dietrich cars in the early days of the sport, Henry Banks only ever raced in America. Mild mannered, quietly spoken and fair minded, he was a consistent racing driver who normally nursed his car to the finish. That is not to say that he did not have his accidents, once losing the tip of his nose in a crash at Detroit.

Background and early races

Raised in Royal Oak, Michigan from six months old, he was 18 when he first raced at Detroit’s VFW speedway – crashing that day. He was a test driver for Pontiac during the 1930s while establishing himself as a star of the region’s midget and sprint car scenes.

His debut in the AAA National Championship followed in 1935 and he was the first driver to take the rookie test at Indianapolis when it was introduced a year later. Banks did not qualify for the 1936 Indianapolis 500 but raced in the next four editions, three times as a relief driver. His first major success came on the East Coast midget circuit when he won the 1941 ARDC Championship title.

World War II and return to racing

Racing was suspended at the end of that year due to World War II and Banks worked in Ford’s aircraft engine factory during the conflict. Back on the grid as soon as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway reopened in 1946, he won 30 midget features during the next season alone. Banks also turned his hand to acting at the time – appearing in racing movies To Please a Lady (1950), in which he lost the big race to Clark Gable, and The Roar of the Crowd (1953).

Indycar Champion in 1950

Banks raced in what is now the IndyCar Series on a fulltime basis from 1950 although his ill-fortune at the Brickyard continued. He was forced to hand his Maserati-Offenhauser to Fred Agabashian after being overcome by fumes 72 laps into the race. He drove a Blue Crown Spark Plug Moore-Offy for the rest of the season, entered by long-time car owner Lindsey Hopkins. As ever consistency was the key to Banks’ success that year – winning once (inheriting a hometown victory in Detroit when Tony Bettenhausen retired from the lead) and scoring seven top-10 finishes to snatch the National Championship from Walt Faulkner at the final round.

Final seasons and life after racing

Runner-up a year later, he enjoyed his best Indy 500 in 1951 when he finished in sixth position. 1952 was a disappointing final full campaign before Banks decided to retire from racing prior to the 1954 Indy 500.

He continued to work as an executive at Ford before replacing Duane Carter as USAC’s Director of Competition in January 1959 in a post that he held until 1970.