“A LIFE IN RACING” by HANK HILTON
“I grew up with racing. My Dad was a promoter, driver, announcer, ﬂagman & sports writer. He promoted auto racing, boxing, wrestling, dance-a-thons, walk-a-thons, and greyhound dog racing. He also raced Model-T sail cars. He started me racing at I6 on the Endert Beach in Crescent City to get me off the streets. This was I949. Then I began racing at the Crescent City Fairgrounds Track (Big mistake; then I was hooked.). It was a 1/4 mile dirt track. I also raced one of the ﬁrst chain-saw powered go-carts ever built. The track was ﬁnally condemned because of too many spectators and too many drivers’ injuries. I ended up with a spine injury. A new track was built, it was the Lake Earl Track near the drive-in, a small I/4 mile dirt, it later became asphalt. I held the record for fast-time when it was still dirt. I also raced in Gold Beach, Grants Pass, Medford, and up to this date I had run all three tracks at Roseburg, OR, and I also raced at Eureka (I952 or so).
Along with auto racing I was the gas-man and portage-man for Burt Pluvoy and the Trees of Mystery boat for the Klamath River White Water Rapids races. They raced from Yreka to Klamath. Burt was the first man to come down the White Water Rapids alone. My job was to make sure he had gas, we were in a pickup and had to race ahead of him. I had to go down over the cliffs to deliver gas to him before he ran out. I had to crawl back up, get in the pickup truck and we would race off to the next gas delivery or deliver a new propeller or portage to pick up the boat and motor and carry it over the rocks at the falls. Then back to the truck and off to the next gas stop. After the last stop the boat would beat us back to the ﬁnish line in Klamath by an hour, as we had to go over the Bald Hills to get the rest of the way back.
I also tried boxing, which was short-lived as there was nobody left to box in my weight class, which was 132-I34 lbs. The trophies were too small anyway.
These dates and times may not be accurate, due to carbon monoxide poisoning on a commercial ﬁshing boat out of San Pedro in I957. I lost over four years of my memory and was considered legally dead – but I fooled them.
Then I was drafted into the Army, where because of more I injuries to my spine, I received a medical discharge. I came back to Klamath and raced in Crescent City, south Oregon tracks, and Eureka.
I raced in Ferndale, but because a corner flagman was killed by a car that was in the spot I should have been in, and of offers to drive in Southern California I moved to Los Angeles. I opened up an auto repair service and raced three days a week at Circle City Track at San Bernadino (which I think now is the Orange Bowl), Long Beach, Slauson, Guardina, etc. I ran mostly jalopies, ‘32-’34 coupes and sedans. I was driving, building, and sponsoring as many as ﬁve cars.
I was also in the Chuck Casteel Hell Drivers Thrill Show where I was the featured attraction-
“HANK HILTON’S DEATH LEAP”
I did the ﬁrewall crash laying on the hood of a ‘5I Hudson going through a wall of ﬁre, and I received 3rd degree burns to my face and back. This happened because the set-up guys put paper with chopped tar in between the layers on the ﬁre-wall. Then I had to do the T-Bone stunt, where I drove up a ramp, hit a car, and ﬂipped over onto other cars. The seat belt broke and I left my burned nose on the steering wheel. In the following year of ’57, I did the “Fire-Wall Crash” plus “Death Leap“ in a ‘36 Plymouth Coupe, where I jumped over parked cars using only one ramp. The set-up crew screwed up again and I had the wrong rear-end in the car, so I overshot the cars, crashing down on the hard track. Again my seat belt ripped out of the frame. I had a mild concussion and got 57 stitches in my forehead. At the time I held the World Record for height and distance over parked cars in a non-modiﬁed, street production car. (This was the end of my thrill-show career; p.s. all the cars were green).
I also joined NASCAR which was called Grand National Late Models at that time. l raced at Ascot, Riverside, and San Diego. The last race I ran in Southem California was at Willow Springs. It was a 500 mile race in an open cock-pit Grand Prix style racecar. I ﬁnished second.
During NASCAR, Willow Springs, and Ascot, I also raced with Lee Petty and Parnelli Jones. At a Championship Banquet in LA, I received one of my championship trophies from Johnny Parsons, one championship trophy from the Mayor of Montebello, and one from a Chief of Police. While I was winning in jalopies, I was also winning in Late Models. Then my son got seriously ill, so we moved back to Klamath.
I drove a few races in Crescent City, Medford, Roseburg, and Eureka. I joined Six Rivers in Eureka. Then after the I964 ﬂood, I took my Ford that went through the flood, called it “Floodmud” and raced in Eureka. Then we went to Bob Britt’s I/4 mile track and then to the bigger one in I968. Eventually, I ended up back at Redwood Acres. Then I was racing in Eureka, Shasta, and Medford. I had my neck broken during this time, then racing full time. I ran NASCAR in Eureka (Sportsman & Late Model) when it became asphalt.
I bought a car from Jimmy Walker and raced at Roseville, Shasta. and Eureka. In Eureka I ﬁnished 3rd in I980, 2nd in I98I, and won the championship in I982. Because of rule changes made after the pit meeting and alter the race, I was cheated out of ‘80 & ‘8l. I’m the only driver I know who was blackflagged while leading a race.
After ‘82 I ran Roseville, Shasta and a few Eureka opens. Then the track was asphalted and I haven’t been worth a damn since. But I did ﬁnish 9th in the NOR-CAL Series in I998. and 4th in TRI-STATE with the Wasmunds in 2003…
I was going to retire in 2003 but my friends, Dave and Barbara Porter of Crescent City, did not want to see me stop racing so they bought a new body for my car. Then I picked up a sponsor with Klamath’s Ravenwood Motel, help from the Klamath Country Club Bar & Grill, and help from my friend Howard Ford, so I decided to race another year…
During my career I have helped many kids in Southern California and up here get started in racing. At one time we had the hated “Klamath River Rats”, there were ﬁve guys from Klamath and Crescent City running in the street stocks. My son Frank Billy, who used to help me with my car before he joined the Marines. and was my pitman when he came home, is now in Sportsman.
So, other than breaking my back, burning of my face, breaking my neck, steam-broiling the family jewels, knocking out most of my teeth, having my head split open and mild concussions, I have never really been hurt bad in a race car in all my 56 years of racing.”
– Hank Hilton
This article was originally written by Hank Hilton in 2005 at the request of Lissa Usleton for her excellent and much lamented web site racintheacres.com
Hank passed away February 28, 2008 in Klamath, California. He was racing right up to the end.
Archival photos are courtesy of Hank’s wife Delores Hilton.
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Loved watching him race. He lived next door to my Care Home for DDS. He always let the guys get in the car and sit in the drivers seat. And took pics and signed them. The guys took them and put them in frames. Was one of the most special times the guys had. Along with mine. Hank and I were very good friends. Very special man. Always thinkin of ya Hammerin Hank!