"Feeling the wind in your face, and hearing the screaming tires and roaring motor, and then knowing that you've mastered a wildly skidding car...all are a big thrill."-Lucky Teter
Earl "Lucky" Teter was an American stunt driver in the 1930s and 1940s who was an innovator and the first to use the label "Hell Drivers." Teter started out as a race driver of both autos and motorcycles and had been a former gas station attendant and weekend test driver. While making his own car polish and selling it at county fairs a passer-by offered him $300 if he would roll a car...from that the life of a "Hell Driver" was born.
Teter along with Robert "Spooly" Hutchinson went on and formed the "Lucky Teter Hell Drivers" in 1934 when Lucky decided to continue to try his hand at the thrill driving trade. The two men grew to a crew of sixty, and had hubs in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Langhorne, at the Langhorne Speedway. They put the hell drivers on the road and traveled as far as Cuba wowing audiences by flipping cars, leaping through the air on motorcycles and mastering precision driving skills. It was the first time the auto thrill show was conceived as a traveling attraction.
As the show grew larger it consisted of precision driving of new automobiles over elevated ramps, reverse spins, and added stuntmen to the show acting as 'daredevil clowns.' By the late 1930's, Lucky had started performing ramp to ramp jumps over large trucks or transcontinental buses earning around $50,000 a year.
On July 4, 1942, 41 year old Teter announced it was his last show prior to closing for the war effort. He made 3 jumps over a panel truck that day, each attempting a world record, beginning at 135 feet. His 4th and final jump was 150 feet and was dedicated "to all servicemen everywhere." Some reported they could hear the engine missing in his bright yellow 1938 Plymouth as he accelerated onto the launching ramp while attempting to jump two Greyhound buses, his car came down short at the edge the landing ramp. The crash broke his neck and he lost his life as the jump fell short just a few feet.
The "Teters" Hell Drivers were disbanded in 1943.
After Earl "Lucky" Teter's fatal crash at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis in 1942, the late stunt driver's show equipment was purchased by Jack Kochman, who debuted his World Champion Hell Drivers that summer and the show went on, but that's another story.
Great post, John. Hard to imagine today's daredevils doing things like this without all the safety equipment possible. The exception is Supercross stars... and sadly, when something goes wrong for them it's usually career ending or fatal, too.ReplyDelete
Going through old photos this AM, found one my father took on 9/1/1940 of "Lucky" leeping a bus at the Indiana State Fair. I googled and - lo & behold - there was your post! Thank you. CandaceReplyDelete
My uncle was a motorcycle driver for Lucky Teter. I do not know the years, but he did travel the country with him. He rode a motorcycle in a wooden barrel and also jumped it through flaming hoops. He met my aunt on a bus trip to California.ReplyDelete
HELLO MY GRANDPA ALSO WORK FOR HIM HARRY WOOLMAN I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW MOREDelete
this is wild.. I take care of a 91 year old guy who sat in the bleechers at the toronto exhibition and watched the original himself doing his stunts.. he said he was absolutely enthralled as a kid watching this show..wow.. glad I looked this upDelete
Interesting Lucky had a crew of 60. Found your site looking for stunt video and have enjoyed the pictures and history. My grandfather was one of his hell drivers and there was a lot of memoroabilia around his house and garage where he kept his Hell Drivers 37 Plymouth. Good to see some of the old pictures again.ReplyDelete
The man that put this whole film together is Dan Hall. Incredibly gifted person. I've had the pleasure of working with him. Please watch 'Civil Disocurse Now' tomorrow on Youtube. We we will be interviewing Dan from the Indianapolis International Film Festival. We will be interviewing Dan again in a few weeks when he will have an opportunity to talk about Lucky Teter in more depth. Thank you, Dan, and I want to thank all of you for your posts. This was a really interesting, great guy. I'm glad I know that now.ReplyDelete
Great to see, thanks for posting, I too am one of the grandkids of a Teter's Hell Driver, Rich that posted above is my cousin, unless there is another Rich with a grandfather in Indy, with a 37 Plymouth and a garage that was legendary to me as a kid!ReplyDelete
Lucky Teter was my uncle. Glad to see some pictures.ReplyDelete
Lucky Teter married my great aunt. Would love to trade any info you have.Delete
I have always wondered about Lucky Teeter. My Mother would sometimes pick up my Daddy from work, so he got into the passenger side and we as kids were in the back. As Mother would drive, Daddy every time, would exclaim...you drive like Lucky Teeter! Glad I got to see and read about him..ReplyDelete
My husband's father was called Lucky Teeters (Harrison Wayne Teeters). He was originally from Indiana and he would work the county fairs driving cars through hoops of fire. But he died in 1973 in Las Vegas Nevada. We can't seem to find much info about him and no pictures. He went to get a pack of cigarettes about a year after he married my husband's mom and never came back. My husband never saw or talked to his dad. I just wonder if these two fellows are related?ReplyDelete
Teter's widow is now 96ReplyDelete
I found a lucky teter hellraiser coin when I was 12 yrs. old and have been searching for a site like this for a longtime. I have always been curious how, in a very small town in PA this coin ever got there. I am looking for any information about these coins. How many were made, where were they made, how did someone go about buying these coins. I have kept this coin for many years and would love to find out more info.ReplyDelete
The 'Black Cat Hell Drivers' are out there right now, doing pretty much a Lucky Teeter's show. My friend Johnny Wisner owns it and is the main driver. His goal is to keep the Hell Drivers going...!ReplyDelete
Does anyone have any recollection or know where I might get any info on my cousin, Lucky Purnell, a 1930's race car driver who raced Indianapolis when it was opened, and was later killed, I think, racing in Oklahoma?ReplyDelete
My grandfather's cousin rode bikes with Lucky. His name was Jumping Jack Owen. If anyone knows of him, or has photos, I'd love to see them!ReplyDelete
I have two real photo action postcards, one identified and one not, of "Jumping Jack Owens." I just acquired them with intentions to list them on ebay in a few weeks along with another one of Teter.Delete
Sad to say that Lucky's widow Edna Young Teter GreenReplyDelete
Harmon passed away last week at 100 yrs. old in Colorado.
Fantastic discovery and photos from a link I found on a Competition Plus drag racing forum thread about racing transporters and saw the amazing picture of Teter jumping at a very steep trajectory over his own transporter. The other pictures are blasting, too, with pre-funny car size crowdsReplyDelete
Just would like to say that the Noblesville First United Methodist Church that Lucky's family worshipped at in Indiana was left the Teter family farm by Lucky's sister Ruth witch was made a family retreat to the church in witch I'm told his stunt cars where buried at by him. The property is now Teter Organic Farm and is an amazing place for family's to visit and learn the story of these amazing people!!!! Look it up!!!! I really want to try to dig up some old stunt cars and build one it would be epic in his name!!!!ReplyDelete
I have a lot of the original pictures, my Uncle was Pony Wilson.ReplyDelete
Does anyone know what ever happened to the 1938 Plymouth car that lucky crashed that infamous day?ReplyDelete
Great articles and great layout. Your blog post deserves all of the positive feedback it’s been getting. outdoor car coversReplyDelete