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#1 Don Capps

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Posted 16 October 2000 - 03:22

...I think I have figured out the identity of the Kurtis midget that Roger Ward drove at Sebring in the 1959 USGP. From what I can gather from the recent book I found on the midgets, it was chassis 'O-10-46' that Leader Card entered for Ward. More details in the next few days.

Also, if you are interested, I think I have also found pretty much all the chassis numbers for the Kurtis machines that competed at Indy....


#2 Barry Lake

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Posted 16 October 2000 - 16:43

Of course we are interested. Post away!

#3 fines

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Posted 16 October 2000 - 17:53



...words are failing me!

#4 Pete Stanley

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Posted 16 October 2000 - 23:35

Hey Don, did you catch the Brock Yates Car & Driver article, "Bad Day at Lime Rock" earlier this year? I think it was in the March issue, but I'm not sure. That article did much to enlighten this youngster about the state of racing in America in the late '50s and early '60s, and it helped me see the road racing v. oval racing situation today from a slightly different angle. Anyway, that article explained the rationale behind running the midget at Sebring - Ward's performance at Lime Rock.

If you wrote to Yates or Chris Eckonomaki, I bet they'd know for sure.

#5 Don Capps

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 18:58

Pete &tc,

Here is something from an RVM on the 1959 season:

Wearing number "1" and qualifying for the race with a time of 3:43.8, compared to Moss' pole position time of 3:00.0, was Rodger Ward, the winner of that year's Indianapolis 500. He was at the wheel of an 11-year old Kurtis Kraft midget powered by a 1.7-litre Offy converted to run Avgas rather than methanol. It had a two speed gearbox and a two speed rear end. And in keeping with the usual midget practice, the braking was done using a brake lever rather than a pedal. It ran on Firestone slicks mounted on 12-inch wheels. And hangs a tale as they say. Most folks never ask the obvious question: whatever possessed someone to run a midget in a Grand Prix race? The answer is found in four words: "Lime Rock" and "Watkins Glen."

The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was founded and run as an amateur organization. Races were run for tin cups and the fun of racing. However, this is America we're talking about and some of the owners looked at their Terribly Expensive Race Cars, the Tin Cups, then back at their Terribly Expensive Race Cars, and then at their wallets. They began to think that perhaps there was a greater appeal to the concept of professional racing than they realized.

The United States Auto Club (USAC), which was formed in 1956 after the American Automobile Association Contest Board ceased operations as the sanctioning body for US international races, stepped up to the plate and began offering racing for cash to the road racers. The "I United States Grand Prix" was a USAC-sanctioned sports car race at the Riverside circuit that saw Chuck Triumph driving a Scarab, and get paid for the win. The battle between the Pros and the Amateurs was to mar US road racing until 1963 when the SCCA finally caved in and established a Pro Racing division.

In the Fall of 1959, Lime Rock held a USAC-sanctioned Formula Libre race. It was "run what ya brung." And one of those appearing for the race was Indy winner Rodger Ward in his Kurtis-Offy midget, alcohol fuel and all. Only politeness kept the Sports Car set from howling with laughter and falling on the ground in hysterics. Tony Bettenhausen, Russ Klar, Brett Brooks, and Duane Carter also had midgets on hand for the race. With some adjustments to the torsion bar suspension to allow turns to the left and right, different cams in the engines, and the alterations to the gearboxes and rear end gears, they were pretty much as raced on the midget circuits.

The entries that were expected to do well were Chuck Daigh in a Maserati 250F just acquired from Joakim Bonnier by Camoradi USA, Lance Reventlow (of Scarab fame) in a F2 Cooper, George Constantine in a Aston Martin 4.2 DBR2, as well as John Fitch's literally just off the boat Cooper Monaco, and teenager Pedro Rodriguez in a 3-litre Maserati, as well as Denise McCluggage in Porsche RSK. It was an excellent entry for such a relatively minor race, but the lure of dollars brought out the entries.

The race was run in a format of two 20-lap heats and a 60-lap final. Jaws literally dropped as Ward grabbed the pole from Constantine by nearly a second. And in sixth place on the grid was Klar. In the first heat, as the flag dropped on the rolling start, Ward got caught lagging the revs and Constantine went past into the lead. Once Ward had the engine really revving, he took off after Constantine. Passing Daigh's Maserati, he was at the bumper of the Aston very quickly. Although the Aston finished ahead of the midget, Ward trailed by only two seconds. And Klar managed to bring his midget home in seventh.

Ken Breen, Ward's entrant, managed to perform a gear change in the 20 minutes between the heats to the astonishment of the Sports Car crowd. Tony Bettenhausen replaced Klar in the Caruso midget. At the start of the second heat, Ward made sure that he didn't get caught again and was first into the first corner. Constantine passed Ward several laps later and started to pull out a slight lead, but at the Esses Ward had an off course excursion and since he never lifted was once again right on the rear bumper of the Aston. Constantine was surprised to see Ward there since he assumed that Ward would have flown off into the countryside. At the halfway point, Ward passed the Aston and pulled away to win the heat.

In the final, Constantine and Daigh made sure that they elbowed Ward out of the way at the start as they shot off ahead of the field. The traded the lead until the Aston pitted with a rear axle stub bearing failure. Ward closed on Daigh and passed him with ten laps to go and drew away for a very convincing win. Needless to say, it was a shock to the Sporty Car crowd.

In mid-October, USAC sanctioned another Formula Libre event, this time at Watkins Glen. Although it was a crushing victory for Stirling Moss - five laps ahead of second place - what was significant was that the second place car was driven by Eddie Johnson at the wheel of his Jerry Zello midget. The midget was clear of all the sports cars and, except for Moss, the fastest car on the circuit - and this despite rain, sleet and snow that fell during the race.

Posted Image

This particular midget has fascinated me from the git-go. There were approximately 519 midgets built by Kurtis-Kraft (367 seems to be about it based on the KK chassis number records) or by KK in kit form (152, again based on the KK records). I recently got wind of a book on the great little cars. That book is Kurtis-Kraft Midget, A Genealogy of Speed: An Illustrated History by Bill Montgomery. I purchased the book without any real thought about the Sebring car, but simply because it appealed to me.

After a quick glance through the book for any signs of the Sebring Midget -- and finding none -- I just settled down to enjoy this great book. Then I saw a picture of Bobby Marshman in a Leader Card midget... chassis O-10-46.

O-10-46 was part of the first batch of midgets given chassis numbers by KK, but they were added in whatever order they were in the shop that day, so numbering was not ordinal by actual production date. In other words, the first 10 were just assigned chassis numbers. The "O" stands for "Offenhauser" naturally.

According to Montgomery, '10-46' allegedly was part of the Lauren Bennett stable. He sold it to the Morgan Brothers, Bernie & Lou (race promoters), sometime in 1946 and they kept it until sometime in 1950. While they ran it, it carried the number "3" and was painted yellow and red.

It was sold to someone named Baldwin, but it was maintained by Bob & Chuck Johnson and driven by Potsy Goacher. Baldwin was killed in a traffic accident in 1951. That year '10-49' was sold to Bob Sowle who painted it black and red, numbered it "7" and ran it for a number of drivers, two of which were Len Sutton and George Amick to give you an idea of the caliber of drivers who drove '10-46.'

In 1958, Sowle sold '10-46' to Bob Wilke of Leader Card fame. '10-46' was now painted while and given the number "4." Don Branson won the 1958 DuQuoin 100-miler and then Bobby Marshman campaigned it. It was sold in 1968 to Gene Willman and then to John Hasseldorf and then to Dean Billings -- all of these campaigning the car in Badger Racing Association events.

It then went to the Moore brothers of Moline, IL, very serious race car collectors. In 1993, it was sold to Jerry Winston, which is where it should still be. Winston was restoring it to the colors of its Leader Card days.

After seaching high and low, I found that in addition to '10-46' that Wilke also owned '68-47' and '163-47.' However, it was always tan & red, wore # 45 and was sold to Wilke mechanic Joe Subjak. Also '68-47' appears to have spent its career entirely in the Chicago/ Milwaukee area. '163-47' was sold by Wilke to Emil Andres on 11 December 1947 (with the Offy installed being serial no. 292). Joe Subjak also owned another KK midget, chassis number unknown; but, it is unlikely that it was used by Ward or Wilke since it was sold early on to Joe Sostillio and can be traced from there until it was either destroyed about 1962 or so or the remains used to build another cars for someone named Neally.

Okay, so based on what I have found and can figure out from nosing around, there is a very high probability that the machine used by Ward in 1959 was '10-46.'

Any ideas?

the midget/oval racing versus formula/road racing didn't go away without some fun moments. I will have to really look hard, but in an SCG from the 1963/1963 period there was a report on a showdown at Lime Rock -- naturally! -- twix the midget guys and the formula guys. The winner? A formula junior powered by an Offy! The driver? Mark Donohue...

#6 fines

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 19:44

Great stuff, Don - Keep it flowing!

#7 Don Capps

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 20:04

....and the KK Indianapolis chassis numbers I am laboring at sorting out thanks to the information I now have courtesy of Gordon White's new book, Indianapolis Racing Cars of Frank Kurtis. It is simply a wonderful book and a great complement to his other recent book, Offenhauser.

Johnnie Parson's KK1000 when he won in 1950 was '316-48.'

Lee Wallard's KK 'Special' in 1951 was '327-49.' It was a 'Special' since it started life in 1949 as essentially a stretched midget (!) fitted with a blown Offy midget engine...

The KK500 chassis used by Bill Vukovich in 1952, 1953, and 1954 was '353-52.' Vukovich was killed in KK500C '372-54' which was used in 1954 by Pat O'Connor. The last appearance of '372-54' at Indy was in 1959 when it had a Maserati V-8 installed...

Bob Sweikert drove KK500D chassis '382-55' to victory in 1955.

The last victory by a Kurtis in a National Championship event was by KK4000 chassis '368-53' at Langhorne on 14 June 1959 by Van Johnson entered by Jake Vargo; the same chassis was used at Trenton when Dick Linder was killed on 19 April 1959.

...and there is lots and lots more where this came from...
[p][Edited by Don Capps on 10-17-2000]

#8 fines

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 21:51

Then '327-49' also won in DuQuoin, Sep 3 and Detroit, Sep 11, 1949, in the hands of Tony Bettenhausen, right?

#9 Don Capps

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Posted 18 October 2000 - 01:14

The #99 Kurtis 'Special' was the idea of Lou Mayer & Dale Drake who commissioned '327-49' from Frank Kurtis. It was given #99 and painted red. The car was -- as mentioned -- essentially a stretched midget and used an experimental engine M&D developed: a supercharged version of the Offy midget engine. The engine weighed in at about 280-pounds ans used a centrifugal-supercharger.

At Milwaukee on 5 June, Tony Bettenhauser was a DNQ in the 'Meyer & Drake Special.' There is a record of an Offy midget engine, '416,' being delivered with a supercharger and intercooler on 30 August 1949 -- it is recorded as a 'test engine.' It has a recorded displacement of 106.81-cu in. However there is Bettenhausen on 20 August at Springfield in #99 with an "M&D" engine retiring to place 18th & last. On 28 August, #99 & Bettenhausen retired after 127 laps, placing 15th.

Then we have the DuQuoin race on 3 September which #99 and Bettenhausen win where the engine is referred to as a "supercharged Offy." The next appearance is at Detroit on 11 September where #99 and Bettenhausen once again win.

After Detroit, amidst much grumbling and griping from the customers, M&D sell #99/ '327-49' to Murrell Belanger of Crown Point, IN. He paints it blue, retains the #99 and calls it the 'Belanger Special.' Bettenhausen is retained to drive. Bettenhausen is 9th at Springfield on 25 September. On 6 November at Del Mar Bettenhausen retires after 29 laps and places 16th.

At Indy in 1950, '327-49' with the blown 'M&D'/ Offy and with Emil Andres & Kenny Eaton at the wheel, is a DNQ. However, Murrell Belanger has the winner in 1951 with a 241-cu in version of the Offy.

There were several "Big Engine" Offys that were supercharged as well:

'105B' which was delivered on 23 March 1950 to I.R.C., Inc with a displacement of 176.9-cu in.

'1087B' del on 12 April 1950 to Alden Sampson

'110B' del on 17 april 1950 to Murrell Belanger

'111B' del on 21 April 1950 to Kurtis-Kraft

I can find a 240.1-cu in Offy -- '96' -- del to Joe Langley on 19 April 1949.

Oh, in the Offenhausen book there is a picture taken in 1960 (?) for the Lime Rock race and it was a Cooper FJ with an Offy in the rear #'X24' with Mark Donohue at the wheel, the first major win for Donohue. He is wearing a 'bubble shield' on his helmet and one of the problems he encountered during the race was the alcohol fumes getting up under the shield...

I can go on, but I really need to finish the next RVM...

#10 fines

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Posted 18 October 2000 - 14:41

Don, is that information all coming from the aforementioned books? If so then I clearly need to have them as well, can you give me details about where and how I can purchase them?

#11 fines

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Posted 07 November 2000 - 23:38

:) :) :) Don! :) :) :)

I have just received the two Gordon White books this morning, haven't had a minute to spare since then! Brilliant, essential read for anyone interested in Championship Car Racing in the USA!

Many thanx for suggesting these books here! :) :) :) :) :)