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"Lucky” Teter’s Ties to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Jimmy Stewart

We all know a few bits of Indianapolis 500 trivia. You know that “Back Home Again in Indiana” will be sung before every race. Winners drink milk at the finish. And the Borg-Warner Trophy is studded with tiny likenesses of every winner’s face.

But Hamilton-County-level trivia isn’t as easy to come by. Maybe that’s because one of our connections to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was often a stuntman for other, brighter stars in the 1930s.

Earl M. “Lucky” Teter was born in Noblesville in 1901 and graduated from Noblesville High School. He was around cars a lot as a gas station attendant, but Teter had a loftier calling.

“He was constantly creating new and exciting tricks to do with automobiles that would thrill crowds at fairs and shows around the country. His troupe of stunt performers was known as the Hell Drivers,” writes Hamilton County Historian David Heighway in an article on the Hamilton East Public Library blog.

In 1936 he moved into feature films and kept actor Jimmy Stewart out of harm’s way in the movie “Speed.” Teter was the man rolling his car at high speeds and crashing over walls for the sake of making a big Hollywood splash. “Motor maniacs burning over the roaring route,” says the official trailer on Turner Classic Movies.

As a promotion for the movie, a newsreel of Teter’s stunts was filmed in downtown Noblesville, Heighway writes. Teter said later that he worried about jumping cars and crashing through walls of fire in spitting distance of the Hamilton County Courthouse. Life Magazine did a feature article on the event, and a videotape of the newsreel can be seen at the Hamilton County Historical Society.

Three-time Indy 500 driver Ken Fowler raced the oval in 1937, 1947 and 1948. Here, he is shown in a “Lucky” Teter Special with mechanic Bud Schneider.

The story around Teter’s death in 1942 is as climactic as his life. Due to the World War II effort and Teter’s excessive use of gas, rubber and metal necessary to do his job, the U.S. Government was shutting down his operation. Teter scheduled one final jump for July 5, 1942, before he was to join the military to fight. As a grand finale, he would attempt a new record, so he had the ramps pushed back to widen the distance his Plymouth would fly. The car didn’t make it safely to the second ramp, and Teter died on the way to hospital. He is buried at Crownland Cemetery.

His name lives on in part through the Lucky Teter Rebel Run Car and Vintage Motorcycle Show under the trees at Forest Park in Noblesville on Sept. 3, 2022. Barry Dixon is a key organizer of the event, now in its 12th year.

When Dixon decided to name the event after Teter, he didn’t know much about him. Dixon did know that Teter was a Freemason, which made sense for an event sponsored by the Noblesville Masonic Lodge. Once the name went public, he says people with connections to Teter started reaching out to him, sharing bits of history and stories. Soon, Dixon became a fan and now collects Teter memorabilia.

The 2022 “Lucky” Teter Rebel Run Car and Vintage Motorcycle Show is an open show for all cars and Vintage motorcycles. The event includes awards, classic oldies and Rockabilly music, refreshments and a great way to connect to your local history.

Marry your event to history and the Hamilton County Bicentennial. As an incentive, we are offering micro-grants of up to $500 to organizations that apply to participate on or before August 1, 2022. Learn more here.


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