Los Angeles, California saw the beginning of Sam Hanks career when he started chauffeuring midgets in 1936 and by the next year he was the Pacific Coast Midget Champion. During the pre war years, Sam took his midget to the Midwest and picked off a number of championships including the tough Chicago Board Championship. He got a ride at Indianapolis and ran the 1940 & ‘41 500. 1941 also saw Sam win the National Midget Title. During his Midwest sweep, Hanks won the 1940 Detroit Motor City and Toledo midget championships and in 1941, the Michigan and Ohio Circuit Championship.
Getting right back into the midgets after WWII, Sam started right where he had left off by winning the 250 lap Gold Cup Race August 17, 1946 in the Los Angeles Coliseum with an unheard of purse in those days of $28,000. The same year he was the Pacific Coast Midget Champion again and qualified the “Spike Jones Special” for the front row at Indianapolis. After his engine blew, Sam drove relief for Joie Chitwood and finished in fifth place.
Continuing to run the midgets till 1952, Hanks captured the 1949 AAA National Midget Championship. As a combination driver, owner, and mechanic, Hanks retired from midgets as the biggest money winner on the midget scene. And this was during the period when midgets reached their peak.
Switching to the championship trail exclusively in 1952, Sam finished 3rd at Indianapolis and 3rd in the National Championship driving the Bardahl Special. The following year found Sam finishing 3rd again at Indy, but won the coveted AAA National Championship Title with the Bardahl Special. In 1954, he set a World’s closed course record of 182.554 MPH driving the Firestone Tire test Car at the Chrysler Proving Grounds at Chelsea, Michigan. Stock car racing also beckoned and Sam did enough racing to capture a 2nd and a 3rd in AAA National Stock Car standings along with the 1956-57 Pacific Coast Stock car championships.
Realizing that he had now won every possible championship in AAA racing, Sam had only one dream that had eluded him, the Indianapolis 500. 1956 found Sam driving for George Salih when an early race accident caused an unscheduled pit stop, dropping Hanks to last place. As a credit to his determination, when the checkered flag fell, Sam Hanks was only 21 seconds behind Pat Flaherty in second place.
It all came together for Sam in 1957 when at the wheel of George Salih’s Belond Muffler Special, with a lay down engine roadster, Sam’s Indy dream finally materialized and while being interviewed in Winners Circle, Sam announced his retirement from racing, having now achieved every goal he had sought after.
After his retirement in 1957, owner Tony Hulman appointed Sam Director of Racing for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A post he held for twenty-one years.
Sam Hanks died on June 27, 1994 at the age of 79. (1914 - 1994)