Henry Banks
Henry Banks
Category: Historic
CLASS OF: 2023
BORN: June 14, 1913
DIED: December 18, 1994
BIRTHPLACE: Surrey, United Kingdom

• Pioneering USAC driver and official
• Led introduction of numerous safety components
• 1941 East Coast Midget Champion
• 1950 AAA Big Car National Champion
• Six-time Indianapolis 500 participant
• USAC Director of Competition (1959-1973)

Official Nomination Bio

Banks made his mark first as a driver and then as a longtime United States Auto Club (USAC) official. Born in England and raised in Royal Oak, MI, Banks competed in both midgets and Indy or “Champ cars” as they were known then. He was the 1941 East Coast Midget champion; in 1947, he won 30 events. Banks’ best year was 1950 when he became AAA Big Car National Champion in the Lindsey Hopkins-owned Blue Crown sprinter and finished second in National Midget points. Banks ran the Indianapolis 500 six times, finishing 6th in ‘51. He served as USAC Director of Competition from 1959 until 1973 when he became VP of USAC Properties. As competition director, he helped introduce numerous safety advances, including roll bars, fuel cells, fire-retardant uniforms and driver restraint systems. As VP, he oversaw the timing of land-speed-record runs and various automaker tests. Retiring from USAC in 1984, he was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) Hall of Fame in 1985 and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2013.


By Dick Berggren

Henry Banks achieved excellence as a racing driver, official, mechanic and safety pioneer.

Born in England in 1913, he spent most of his life in the United States. He began driving Midgets in 1932 at age 19, at a time when racing was insanely dangerous. None of the cars had a roll bar or roll cage. Lap belts were often so poorly installed, drivers were ejected in crashes. Major injuries and deaths were frequent. It took a brave man to race when Banks drove Midgets and Big Cars to major championships. (Big Car was a descriptor applied to both Sprint Cars and dirt-track Champ Cars then.)

Banks was immediately successful, winning his second start in a Big Car after crashing in his first.

He won the 1941 Eastern American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) championship for Midgets and picked up where he left off after World War II, winning 30 Midget features in 1947, and the 1950 AAA National Big Car Championship. Consistent as well as fast, he was only the second driver to capture the title without collecting points at Indy. In addition to the Big Car title, Banks finished second to Bill Vukovich (Class of 1992) in AAA Midget points in 1950, making it a banner year. He finished second in the AAA National Championship the following year.

His fame and skill led to him being featured with a handful of other drivers in two racing-themed films, the popular Clark Gable-Barbara Stanwyck “To Please A Lady” (1950) and 1953’s “Roar of the Crowd.”

Banks attempted the Indy 500 nine times with a best finish of 6th in 1951, the only time his car completed more than two- thirds of the distance. He wheeled AAA Champ Cars at the brutal mile Syracuse, Phoenix, Springfield and Milwaukee tracks among others, winning at Detroit.

A top mechanic who had worked on his own cars, during WWII he was employed by Ford in the Aircraft Engine division.

In 1959 he began the first of what were many executive-level jobs in USAC, including Director of Competition. In 1973 he became VP of USAC Properties.

As a USAC executive he promoted safety advances, particularly roll-over bars, fuel cells (rubber bladders within fuel tanks to drastically reduce fire risk), fire-resistant uniforms, mandatory seat belts and shoulder harnesses. As a former driver, he knew firsthand the pain of losing friends and the kind of common-sense changes that would keep them safer.

“Henry Banks is among the rare individuals who could fit two hall-of-fame careers into one lifetime,” United States Auto Club President and COO Kevin Miller said. “His career on the track ranks him among the all-time greats and merits his inclusion into the Hall of Fame as a champion race driver. His stewardship as USAC’s Director of Competition in its formative years are just as Hall of Fame- worthy and were essential to the growth and sustained success that USAC experienced under his leadership.”

Banks was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 1985 and, in 2013, the National Midget Hall of Fame. He received the Distinguished Service Citation Award from the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1978.

He died at age 81 in 1994.


Dick Berggren had a 33-year career as a NASCAR TV pit road reporter for CBS, Fox and others. He won 23 feature events driving stock cars and sprint cars, founded two auto racing magazines, founded the New England Racing Museum and edited racing magazines for nearly 25 years.



Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles

(John Mahoney)

Doug Boles

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