Tommy Milton‘s early ambition to become a racing driver, because he simply memorised the standardised eyesight test cards of the day! He had earlier shown promise as an automobile
engineer and worked as a builder and tuner of racing cars.
At the age of I7, he joined a barnstorming exhibition team driving a Mercer
, but the ambitious Milton soon tired of the fixed results of the races in which he took part and was eventually sacked for disobeying team orders. He then joined the Duesenberg team which was enjoying considerable success at that time in the hands of drivers like Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Murphy and Wilbur D'Alene.
He was to have driven in the 1916 Indianapolis 500-mile race, but his car was not ready in time. However, he soon began to show that he was a driver of some skill by picking up many good placings on the board tracks, which were becoming popular in the USA at that time.
Although he did not manage to win a race, he was placed 7th in the American Championship in 1916. America's intervention in World War 1 kept him out of action until 1919 but he was made captain of the Duesenberg
team for that season.
The Twin-Engined Duesenberg
He soon scored his first major victory by winning the 300-mile road race at Elgin, Illinois, at 73.9 mph; he had previously retired from the Indianapolis race after only 50 laps. Soon after his Elgin victory, he was badly burned in a crash on a board track which put him out of racing until early 1920, but, during his convalescence, he designed and helped to build a twin-Duesenberg-engined car using a pair of the 5-litre, single-overhead-camshaft, straight-eight engines which were redundant because the Indianapolis rules were changed for 1920, reducing the limit to 3 litres.
The engines were simply mounted side-by-side and drove by separate propeller shafts to a rigid rear axle fitted with two differentials. The 'Double Duesy' was tested at 151 mph by Milton's teammate Jimmy Murphy, and then Milton took it out on Daytona Beach and clocked up 156.03 mph over the measured mile. Milton claimed that this was the average of a two-way run, making it eligible for the land-speed record
, which stood at that time to Horsted's Benz at a very modest 124.10 mph.
Unfortunately, the governing body of motor racing in Europe, the AIACR, refused to recognise the run as it had not been carried out under their jurisdiction, but it was certainly recognised in the USA. Milton's speed was not officially bettered in Europe until six years later. The rest of Milton's 1920 season was very successful, for he won three major long-distance races, finished third at Indianapolis and won the American National Championship.
Driving for Frontenac
For 1921, Tommy switched to a Frontenac for Indianapolis, although he also attempted to qualify a Durant-Duesenberg without success. The Frontenac went perfectly, to give Milton his first Indianapolis victory at 89.62 mph. Although his other successes were not so frequent as in 1920, he picked up enough good places to win his second American National Championship. In 1922, Milton's Leach Special only lasted 44 laps at Indianapolis, but he picked up several victories and many places at the board tracks.
He switched to Millers and Miller-powered cars after that and, in 1923, he won his second Indianapolis 500 in his HCS Miller Special at an average speed of 90.95 mph, to become the first man to win two Indianapolis 500 races. Milton gradually began to wind down his own participation in races, but he still won a number of races in Miller-powered specials. His 1924 Indianapolis race lasted 110 laps, but in 1925 he finished fifth. On this note, he decided to retire from driving at the age of 32, but he kept his association with racing by designing and building a front wheel drive
Miller-powered special for Cliff Durant to drive in the 1927 Indianapolis race.
However, Durant was taken ill and was unable to drive, so Milton took over the. car, qualified it and finished eighth in the race, despite severe overheating problems which obliged him to use a relief driver. Like his former Duesenberg teammate, Jimmy Murphy, Milton took in one major European race during his career. He drove a Duesenberg in the 1925 Italian Grand Prix
at Monza, leading the race at one stage, but eventually dropping back to fourth place after suffering a broken oil pipe.
Milton retired for good after the 1927 Indianapolis race, taking a job with Packard before forming his own company. He also remained active in racing as chief steward at Indianapolis and as a member of the American Automobile Association Contest Board. He died in 1962 at the age of 69.