From his beginnings on the “outlaw” tracks of southern California, Frank Wearne made it to racing’s pinnacle — the Indianapolis 500 — where he compiled an enviable finishing record.
Born in Belle Plaine, Iowa, on May 27, 1913, bronchial trouble led Wearne’s parents to send the 6 year old to live with relatives in southern California where he grew up in Altadena. He traded a motorcycle for a Model T roadster with a Fronty head and embarked on a racing career. His first races were on the five-eighths mile dirt track at the Burbank ranch of former heavyweight boxing champ Jim Jeffries.
In 1933, Wearne moved on to Culver City Speedway where he became a feature winner before leaving the “outlaw” ranks to join the AAA. Soon Wearne was racing at Los Angeles’s famed Legion Ascot Speedway and won a November race in Colton, Calif. In March 1934, he was fortunate to suffer no worse than a broken arm in a nasty crash at Legion Ascot.
Finishing in the top 10 in points the last two years of the AAA Pacific Coast Championship, 1934 and 1935, Wearne won a feature at Tucson, Ariz., in the latter year. Feeling he was playing second fiddle to Rex Mays on the Sparks-Weirick team, Wearne jumped to Henry Puckett’s Atlas Chrome Special. When Legion Ascot closed in January 1936, big-car racing all but disappeared in southern California and Puckett sold the car to Neely Burkitt to campaign in the Pacific Northwest.
Wearne and mechanic Kenny Jacobson went along with the car and the combination proved successful, winning the 1936 Northwest championship.
Wearne made his Indy debut in 1937, retiring after 99 laps and winding up 24th. In a season with only three AAA championship events, Wearne finished 11th in the Vanderbilt Cup and had a DNQ at Syracuse. Like most other championship drivers of the era, he did most of his racing in big cars (sprints) with his lone win outside the West Coast coming Aug. 15 in a 25-mile race on the half-mile Cook County Fairgrounds in Chicago.
Returning to Indy in 1938, Wearne finished 10th, the beginning of a streak that saw him finish in the top 10 for the next five races.
Wearne crashed at Syracuse, N.Y., in September, which proved to be his last AAA championship start outside of Indy. From 1939 through 1946, Wearne finished ninth, seventh, eighth and eighth at Indy. Uniquely, the back-to-back eighth-place finishes in 1941 and 1946 were in the same car, with the same number, but for different owners.
After receiving relief in the 1947 race, Wearne failed to finish following a spin and announced his retirement from racing. Post-racing, Wearne worked in a brewery for 20 years.
Frank Wearne, one of the most consistent finishers in Indy history, died in 1985.