This Day In History: 10 Oct 1948, Ted Horn’s Fatal Crash

Ted and Movie Star Barbara Britton at Indianapolis Motor Speedway,1941. Photo from www.findagrave.com.

Born Eylard Theodore Horn on February 27, 1910, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ted Horn became one of the greatest AAA National Champions of all-time. The Horn family moved often during young Ted’s childhood before settling in Los Angeles, California. Like many teen-agers, Horn found work as a newsboy at 15-years-old with the Los Angeles Times.

In the roaring twenties, it was common for California law enforcement officers to guide young hot rodders to a controlled and safe place to get their speed fix. When Horn was pulled over for speeding one day while driving to work, the local police impounded Ted’s car with the instruction to go to one of the local tracks (San Jose Speedway), where there were more cars than drivers, and get his need for speed out of his system. Once he did that, he could pick up his impounded car.

Horn did what the policeman ordered him to do, and eventually went to pick up his car, but his passion for racing and speed had developed into something larger. Turning to one of the most popular race tracks in California at the time, Ted advanced his racing career at the Legion Ascot Speedway. Starting as one of the slowest cars on the track, Horn worked and learned how to get faster lap times. 

Ted Horn. Photo from www.findagrave.com.

Parents Asked Him To Quit

A racing accident put him on the mend for a few weeks, during which time his parents were able to convince him to give up racing. Despite the promise, he was back again after a three-year hiatus, racing full time.

Horn continued to race and improve to the point where he attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 (The International  500 Mile Sweepstakes Race) in 1934. He was unable to get his #53 Duesenburg into the field. The following year he put the black and white painted front-wheel drive #43 Miller/Ford in the show. Horn drove for 145 laps before a steering problem forced the car into retirement with a 16 place finish.

Ted Horn & Wilbur Shaw at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1947. Photo from twitter.com.

This would be the last time he finished the great race outside of the top four in his 10-year run at the track. Sadly, a gap of four-years was lost due to WWII and the cancellation of the event. Horn attempted to enlist for the war effort but was denied due to race injuries. When the war was over and racing began again, Horn was ready. He won every event that he entered in 1945. Horn backed that up by winning the AAA National  Championship in three consecutive years, 1946, 1947, and 1948.

His run in the Indianapolis 500 was equally successful over those championship years. In 1946 and 1947 he finished on the podium in third place. In 1948 he finished in forth but led 74 laps of the race. In 10 starts, his record was 9 finishes in the top four, and one retired due to mechanical failure. He finished 1,944 out of a possible 2,000 laps. In the entire history of the Indianapolis 500, no one has a better finishing record over a 10 race period.

The 1948 DuQuoin 100

The end came for Ted Horn at the mile long dirt oval of the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in Illinois on October 10, 1948. Horn was a slender, blond man with a small mustache, and one of the most respected drivers of all time having won the two previous year’s AAA National Championships. Well ahead in the point standings, Horn had pretty much wrapped up the 1948 Championship as well.

Ted Horn at Mines Field. Photo from twitter.com.

The 38-year-old Horn had built his own chassis “Horn Enterprises” with an Offenhauser engine for the DuQuoin 100 – mile race. His #1 Horn/Offy started in the second row outside position with Horn looking like one of the favorites to win.

On the second lap a wheel spindle broke on Horn’s car and the Offy-powered  sprinter crashed into the #98 Agajanian Kurtis/Offy car driven by Johnny Mantz. Mantz suffered only minor injuries, but Horn was gravely injured and transported to the Marshall-Browning hospital where he passed away.

The recently divorced Horn had been remarried just 17 days prior to the accident. He left behind his new wife and an 8-year-old daughter at the time of his death. He won the 1948 AAA National Championship with an amazing 731 points over his nearest competitor. Ted Horn was the only driver to win three AAA National Championships in a row and his finishing record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would never be equalled. The Ted Horn Memorial race at DuQuoin has been a major event every year at the track since his fatality.

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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