Kurtis Kraft Racer is a Slice of Americana for Hill Climb

Wednesday 6 May 2015

An Indy 500 racing car once campaigned at Monza by a decorated World War II U.S. Army fighter pilot will head into unfamiliar territory when it competes in the Chateau Impney Hill Climb.

The four-cylinder 1957 Indianapolis 500 Kurtis Kraft 500G was bought from new by Ray Crawford, an Air Corps pilot who flew the P-38 Lightning in combat over North Africa in 1943.  He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his active service.

Upon leaving the air force, Crawford was introduced to racing by a former high school classmate. His first win came in the stock-car class of the 1954 Carrera Panamericana – a nine-stage, five-day race across Mexico – in a Lincoln. The following year, Crawford drove a Lincoln-Kurtis Kraft 500B at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race, finishing in 13th position after running the entire length without a co-driver – to this day, the only driver to ever do so.

Known by his nickname ‘The Flying Grocer’ due to his family’s successful California-based supermarket chain, Ray was one of the first owner-drivers of the post-war era at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He regularly competed in the AAA and USAC Championship Car series, racing in the 1954–59 seasons including the Indianapolis 500 races in 1955, 1956, and 1959.

The privateer raced his own self-funded cars during the course of his career, including the 1957 Kurtis Kraft 500G, recognised by its ‘Meguiar's Mirror Glaze/Crawford’ sponsorship, which he campaigned in the invitational ‘Race of Two Worlds’ events held at Monza Autodrome,Italy, in 1957 and 1958,  finishing 7th and 4th respectively.

Ray continued to race without any notable success in events throughout Europe during 1957 and 1958, including the British, Monaco and Argentinian Grand Prix, as well as in the United States. Sadly, he received serious injuries during a crash at the 1959 Indianapolis 500, which he survived, but curtailed his driving career. He was later cited as a major influence on American speed legend, Mickey Thompson, who started out as a member of his pit crew.

The car’s current driver, Fred Harper, has owned the Kurtis Kraft for 10 years and competed in it for the last seven, most recently winning the VSCC Bob Gerrard Memorial Race for pre-1961 racing cars last season. 

Although the Kurtis Kraft has competed in numerous events, including the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Historic Grand Prix Cars Association meetings, it will be the car’s first time trying out the incline of the Chateau Impney Hill course. Fred is looking forward to seeing how it handles the tight corners of the course in the pre-1961 Racing Cars over 1500cc class.

Photos courtesy of Bob Sketchley

  • Kurtis Kraft, Chateau Impney Hill Climb, Droitwich
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