Speed Hinkley Made Mark In Early Days Dirt Racing
Born Byron W. Hinkley in Elba, Neb., Oct. 28, 1898, Hinkley would come to be known as “Speed” on the California dirt tracks he raced on in the late 1920s and early ’30s.
Growing up on the family farm near Elba, Hinkley began his racing career on fairground tracks in Nebraska — Kearney, St. Paul and Lincoln — as well as neighboring Kansas. Sometime in the early ’20s, he moved with his family to Pasadena, Calif., where they opened an auto repair business.
A mechanic at the family shop, Hinkley was soon racing around southern California dirt tracks, including the recently opened Ascot Motor Speedway. By 1926, he’d acquired his nickname and wins at Banning and Ascot. The half-mile at Banning was Hinkley’s domain, with four more wins, two seconds, a third and a track championship over the next two years.
In 1927, “Speed” also garnered wins at Ventura and Colton.
In October 1929, Hinkley won at his old stomping ground — Ascot, by now known by its more famous name, Legion Ascot. He followed that up with another win two weeks later at San Jose. Hinkley likely never raced farther from his home base than San Jose, another track where he excelled.
In June 1931, Hinkley had lapped the field at San Jose, only to lose a certain victory when a tire punctured. Chet Gardner went on to take the win. Two weeks later, Hinkley defeated Gardner in a 60-lapper on the same track, scoring his last known win.
The same San Jose Speedway that he ran so well at nearly proved his demise later that year. On Oct. 4, Hinkley was reportedly leading the main event when his car blew a tire, spun and overturned. He suffered head, back and chest injuries in the crash and retired from racing.
Popular and well liked by fans and racers, Hinkley’s California career came driving cars representative of the era, beginning with Rajo-equipped stripped down Model Ts and ending in Millers.
While records of the era are incomplete, Hinkley is known to have won at least 11 races with eight second-place and eight third-place finishes to his credit. And while he only is known to have won twice at the famous Legion Ascot, he had many top finishes there. His record is even more impressive when considering the caliber of his competition: at least 11 drivers he regularly raced, and often won against, are in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. He ranked fifth in 1929 AAA Pacific Coast points.
After retiring from racing, “Speed” worked as mechanic for a bakery for more than 40 years. He passed away in Glendora, Calif., Dec. 31, 1989, at the age of 91.
Renewed appreciation of his accomplishments led to his induction into the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.