Luther Johnson

Luther Johnson

19/7/1903 - 12/4/1978

Luther Johnson was a mechanic and test driver at Studebaker. He raced Studebaker stockcars quite successfully and also raced at Indy in the 500 three times.

Born in South Bend, Indiana, Luther Johnson was a mechanic at Studebaker. He was also a works test driver and raced Studebaker stockcars quite successfully. He was given a test in open wheel cars in 1930 and this led to a drive at the Indy 500 that year in the Romthe Special. This was not a proper works entry but was build by William Richards, George Onishi, J.C. MacDonald, Joseph Tate, and Ernie Huntley, who all worked for Studebaker.

Apparently women, peanuts and the color green were all jinxes at the 'Brickyard' and unfortunately Johnson was very superstitious. So when he found Huntley’s girl friend sitting in the cockpit of the Romthe Special he refused to drive. MacDonald, the M in Romthe who was also a test driver at Studebaker, had to step in. He qualified the car in a respectable, if not unlucky, 13th and in the race car retired on lap 112 with a split fuel tank.

Luther did drive the car a few weeks later on the dirt oval in Detroit. He qualified the car in 10 and finished 6th.

He finally made the start at Indy the following year in the Romthe Special thoughy now re-named the Richards Special with William Richards, the "R" in Romthe, along as riding mechanic.

George Hunt, supervisor of test facilities at Studebaker and Ab Jenkins, the speed record ace, had built a new car. Though the new car which was similar to the Romthe, was called the Hunt Special, it was a semi works project.

Luther qualified in 12th spot and was going well in the race, running in 4th at three quarter distance. However as the leader, Billy Arnold was lapping him, Arnold's rear axle broke and Johnson crashed into him. The Arnold's car went over the Speedway’s northeast wall in flames. A wheel flew off and hit 12 year old Wilbur Brink who was sitting in his garden at 2316 Georgetown Road, across from the Speedway. Poor Wilbur was killed and Arnold and his mechanic, Spider Matlock, were injured. Arnold with a fractured pelvis and Matlock with a broken shoulder.

The incident put Tony Gulotta in the Hunt Special into the lead but his crew had miscalculated. Thinking he was in second, they signaled him to speed up. He did and promplty crashed in the oil from Arnold's accident.

The following month he again entered the AAA race in Detroit. The Richards Special now fitted with a Hudson engine, he failed to qualify.

In 1932 the Studebaker Corporation entered no less than five cars in the Indy 500 using Rigling chassis and Studebaker President 337 cubic inch 8 cylinder engines. It was the first time that a major American automobile manufacturer had entered a works team. Luther qualified the Studebaker Special in 11th at 111.218 mph. In the race he lost a wheel that barely missed Pete Kreis in another Studebaker.

He was back with the Studebaker Special in 1933, now fitted with streamlined bodywork. He starting 20th but unfortunately the streamlined bodies caused the cockpits to heat up, which made conditions for the drivers very difficult, Luther eventually finishing in 10th. It was his last Indy 500 though he entered a Bugatti in 1937, he withdrew without attempting to qualify.

He died in South Bend, Indiana in 1978.

historicracing.com

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