Kurtis-Kraft Offenhauser: Racing a Brickyard bruiser at Goodwood

23rd January 2018
Ethan Jupp

Funny how an old ‘50s Indycar such as the Kurtis-Kraft KK500G that from a distance to the untrained eye, might resemble contemporary F1 cars of the era, can feel as far away from home sitting at the Goodwood Motor Circuit as a Ford Mustang or even a NASCAR.


We had a chat with KK500G owner Frederick Harper on the story behind it and what business a relic of the Brickyard might have for the first time at the Revival rather than on the Hill.

It and others like it were here on Richmond Trophy duty. This was a competitive gathering of both F1 and Indycar machinery of the late ‘50s as a sort of celebration of the Race of Two Worlds, held in 1957 and 1958. The likes of Maserati 250F and Kurtis-Kraft Offenhauser KK500G won’t likely have shared tarmac competitively since. We’ve discussed what the Race of Two Worlds was for and what it signified at length but without an overbearing emphasis on the fact that it had points value in the Formula 1 world championship. Strictly speaking, this Kurtis-Kraft could have been in the '57 F1 demo given its part in the championship, however small. Fred breaks broke out in a big grin when we mentioned the Monzanapolis races: 

“It raced from '57 to '62 – it did '57 and '58 at Monza… they were lapping quicker at Monza than they were at Indy that year… It’s quite a strange thing but it’s nice to have that history with it," he said.

“We were talking to a guy at the Festival of Speed Indy Celebration a few years ago who actually went to Monza and he said it was amazing. The atmosphere and the banter between the Europeans and Americans was just incredible”.

Get up close to the Kurtis-Kraft Offenhauser and the nature of the task for which it was created becomes apparent. It’s a long and slightly industrial looking barge that makes something like a Vanwall look incredibly exotic. This is a car very much engineered toward top speed rather than precise handling so we’re not surprised by its performance at Monza. That outrageous turn of speed likely contributed to the safety concerns that in part informed the race’s cancellation…


As for the car’s life from new and in the years leading up to now, the car seems to have had an interesting run of it, leaping from brickyard limelight to aspirations of record-breaking and everything in between.

Its early years were the flight of fancy of a typical American superstar. Ray Crawford was a decorated pilot, flying a P38 lightning to deadly effect in wartime. He returned home to a testing gig on the very first jets including the P80 shooting star. Coming from money, with his parents the owners of several large local stores, Ray had options in terms of what to turn his attention to. What fast dangerous hobby better befits a retired war ace than motor racing? So the “flying grosser” would turn his hand to Indy…

Frederick had his own opinions on Ray’s proficiency behind the wheel:

“I think he was a better pilot than driver. He sold this on in 58-59, to one of his mechanics. The car did better when other people got in it.”

After its tenure as a contemporary racer we’re told it moved on to faster pastures with Firestone at their testing facility and then relative retirement: 

“Firestone had it for testing – it managed a 181mph lap at their test track. Then it went into the Indianapolis museum.”

Then a brief stint chasing world records in the ‘80s before being purchased by his Dad who put it to work in the historic motorsport calendar:

“My old man bought it in the mid-'90s. He drove it for ten years. He took it to Phillip Island. He’s done quite a lot with it. Some chap brought it over for an endurance record at Millbrook. He was gonna do 200mph for however many hours. We’ve no idea how he was going to manage that.”


As for the Revival? We talked about the challenges he would face. A grid of fully-fledged F1 cars and a quite possibly wet Goodwood didn’t seem to trip his nerves:

“Obviously we’ve got quite a lot more power than we have handling, so it’s interesting… It’s quick round here. Usually in this lot even learning the track I’d expect to be in the top 10.

“It is dreadful in the wet. I know it’s bad. It tends to just go straight on… We’re not worried about breaking them but I don’t want to look an idiot and not be asked back!”

As it stands Frederick in the old Offy might have underestimated the competition. In spite of the favourably dry conditions, his 14th place was somewhat adrift of what he was hoping for. That’s not to say that IndyCars are out of their depth at Goodwood, with their 1954 Offenhauser bringing it home in a comfortable fourth position. Regardless of the race results, seeing these old Indy nails turn a wheel in anger alongside their European counterparts 60 years on from the mystical Race of Two worlds was a pleasure all of its own. If you wanted proof that Goodwood and IndyCars were never intended to mix, look how ill-fitting the shelters are for them. 

“It’s definitely different – it doesn’t fit in your garage!”

We’re glad they did all the same…

Photography by James Lynch, Drew Gibson, Jochen Van Cauwenberge and Amy Shore

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  • 2017

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