The Flying Flea
Posted on July 06 2015
Born May 23, 1939 in Houston, Texas, Sammy Tanner as a young teenager was just 5 feet tall and barely weighed 100 pounds.
Nicknamed the "Flying Flea”, four of Tanner’s seven Grand National victories came at his "hometown" Ascot track.
One summer, an announcer jokingly said that Tanner was a rock 'n' roll star back home in Texas. Fans swamped him after the race asking for his autograph and copies of his record. Tanner quickly hit the local recording studio and cut a record based on his nickname. The song began: "When I was born in a Texas shack, Pop took one look and said send him back. No scrawnier runt ever lived than me, but now I’m known as the 'Flying Flea.'"
Now adorned in white racing leathers with a guitar emblazoned on the back, it was Tanner’s job to take on the likes of three-time Ascot National winner Al Gunter and 1961 Ascot National winner Neil Keen.
When Friday nights at Ascot Park had become dominated by Al Gunter, JC Agajanian placed a bounty on his head. Soon after, Aggie received a long-distance payphone call from a nervous sounding fella with a Texas drawl claiming that if he had enough money for gasoline to get to Ascot he’d win the bounty.
Tanner got his gas-money, the bounty and the first-ever AMA Grand National at Ascot with a new eight-mile race record, breaking the old record by six seconds. Sammy Tanner rapidly became one of the heroes of the famed half-mile clay oval.
Aggie picked up the “Flying Flea” and carried him to the Winners Circle that evening. From the opening Ascot National that Tanner won in 1959 through the 1966 National event, the winner was either Tanner, Gunter or Keen.