Founding Fathers - Wheeler


The point that has really stuck with me in all the things I have read about Frank Wheeler came from his obituary. It said that he spent a good deal of time in California but even his family wasn't sure what the heck he was doing out there. Wheeler is kind of a mystery man. Growing up in Iowa, Wheeler spent time in California as a traveling salesman and came to Indianapolis around 1900. He apparently shared Carl Fisher's bluster and penchant for thrusting himself into risky situations.
Just as he didn't share his doings in California with his family, he didn't tell his fellow founders at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Carl Fisher, Arthur C. Newby and James Allison) when he teamed with another set of investors to set up concrete oval race track in Minneapolis in 1914. You can imagine the damage that could have done to the trust the other Speedway founders had in the man. The Minneapolis venture proved a huge mistake and Wheeler lost a bundle. I'm only speculating, but I don't think the relationship was the same afterward. Wheeler sold his interest in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1917.
Wheeler had his successes, most notably the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company and here his aptitude for sales proved an excellent fit with the engineering mind of George Schebler. Schebler stuggled to tell the story of his great ideas, but Wheeler helped deliver marketable products and attract customers. They made millions of dollars and established a quality repuation for world-class products. Together they commissioned one of the most iconic trophies ever offered by the Speedway, the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy.
Despite his great success, any comparisons to Fisher dim his star. While Wheeler could to point to his big business with carburetors, Fisher was multi-tasking in numerous huge stakes games all the time. Wheeler was hounded by lousy health for a good portion of his life as diabetes took its toll. His illness is cited as the primary reason for his decision to commit suicide May 27, 1921.