Wednesday, May 10, 2017

His Luck Ran Out

Noblesville, Indiana, population about 60,000 and growing, is the Seat of Hamilton County, located about 25 miles north of Indianapolis.  It’s sort of a special place to me since I was born there.  My father, Robert, was a member of the town’s Masonic Lodge, Noblesville 57.  But this isn’t about my father or me; it’s about another member of Noblesville 57, a man named Earl Teter.

Better known as “Lucky”,  Earl Teter was born in Noblesville in 1901.  He was president of his high school class for 3 years, captain of the basketball team, a football player and a champion boxer.  Influenced by the world-famous race held just a few miles south of his home, the Indianapolis 500, Teter was always attracted to thrills and action.  So in 1934, he recruited a group of drivers and put an automobile show of “thrills and spills” on the road. 

He called this group of daredevils “Lucky Teter’s Hell Drivers,” the first use of the phrase many have used since.  For the next several years, Lucky and his band of stunt drivers toured the country, playing to massive crowds with their ever-increasingly dangerous show.

Teter’s fame and success mounted until everything changed on December 7, 1941.  With the United States entering World War II, Teter decided to close his show to help with the war effort.  He planned one final performance, fittingly, on July 4, 1942. 

Wanting a “grand finale,” Lucky vowed to break the world record by jumping his car over a panel truck at a distance of 135 feet.  In front of an excited sellout crowd at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds, he got in his car, jammed his foot on the accelerator, hit the launch ramp at full speed and made the jump, setting the world record.  Knowing this was a special day and his final performance before the war, Teter had the ramps moved back to 140 feet, made another attempt and set another world record.  Ever the showman, he repeated the stunt at 145 feet.

Having set three world records he stepped to a microphone and told the crowd he would set one final record to honor the servicemen who now had the very future of the country in their hands. “I want,” he said, “to thank the officers and soldiers… I’m dedicating this last stunt not only to the soldiers here, but to all those in Uncle Sam’s armed forces throughout the world.”

With that, he had the distance set at 150 feet.  Attempting his 4th world record of the day, he got into his car, fired the engine and headed full-tilt toward the launch ramp.  Spectators reported they heard Teter’s birght yellow 1938 Plymouth misfire as he sped toward the jump.  He didn’t have nearly enough speed.  Earl Teter’s luck ran out as his jump fell short and he lost his life.

Today, Lucky Teter remains one of Noblesville’s favorite sons.  Each year in August, the town hosts the “Lucky Teter Rebel Run.  Proceeds go to, what else, the Noblesville Masonic Angel Fund in memory of a courageous Brother whose final act was dedicated to the soldiers of World War II.

For the Whence Came You podcast, this is Steve Harrison with the Masonic Minute.

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