If a race car’s reputation is based on the drivers that have sat behind its wheel, then this 1948 Kurtis-Kraft midget (serial number 287) scores a high rating.
The cadre includes the likes of Gene Force, Tommy Copp, Jimmy Davies, Mel Kenyon, Allen Crowe, Shorty Templeman, Larry Rice, Bob Tattersall, Sonny Ates and Bob Wente, among others. Several of those drivers’ resumes include competing in the Indy 500.
The list is impressive, but just as impressive is the length of the car’s career. Starting right after World War II, it ran competitively into the 1970s, and then continued racing on the vintage car circuit.
Its golden years took place from 1958 until 1965 when the car was owned by Lloyd Hamm of Richmond, Ind. Hamm didn’t compete much against local competition, instead focusing on the USAC national series, where the car spent a lot of time near the head of the field.
Much of the car’s success can be attributed to highly-acclaimed mechanic Bob Higman.
Hamm’s best effort came in 1961, when he came in second in the 1961 USAC national owners points. Then, in the following three years, he was always in the top five.
Tommy Copp was the top shoe during those years, taking a dozen wins between 1962 and ’64.
Add in the fact that that the car was powered by an Offy, which provided an additional advantage, and you had a recipe for success.
Lloyd’s young son Dick helped with the car at the time and recalled, “My dad was an expert at getting the most out of the Offy. It was like he was tuning the engines by touch.”
Bob Wente earned seven checkers in the car, with a major accomplishment being the win at the first Buckeye 100 at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
But tragedy struck in 1962 when three-time USAC National Midget Series champion Shorty Templeman was killed in the car at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Ohio.
Larry Rice ran the car later, and although he never won a race in the then-aging midget, he did score a second-place finish at a 100-mile race in Oklahoma.
Larry indicated that the car wasn’t much on the pavement, but he could really get it around the dirt tracks in a hurry. Larry’s father owned the car at the time.
Midget superstar Mel Kenyon drove the car one time in an indoor midget show at the Fort Wayne Coliseum, winning the last race with Offy power at the track.
After its competitive career ended, for roughly two decades the car appeared with the Antique Auto Racing Association (AARA) vintage group. During that time the car was owned by Dave White of Fremont, Ohio.
After a couple more owners, the car was acquired by Jim Willey, who restored it to its earlier blue and white appearance with the “George & Johns Coney Island” sponsor lettering on the hood.
Willey provided some interesting data on the restoration.
“I got great assistance from Frank Kurtis’s grandson, who actually fabricated some correct parts for the car,” Willey noted. “He has the license to the KK name, so it can’t be much more correct than that.”
It’s nice to know that after all these years, both the long-ago sponsor and the car it supported are still in existence.