Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Roof Car

Okay, it's not like I didn't know it was there because it was one of the first things I heard about when I moved to Indy. I will say that I expected something a little more distinguished; I'd thought a guy put his race car on top of his business, and maintained it's appearance. One is supposed to honor and respect the people, animals and machines that do well for you. Not this.

The car is a roadster, built by Kurtis-Kraft in 1954 and designated model KK500C. It was sold by Frank Kurtis to a pair of  Indianapolis car dealers to compete in the 1954 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Driven by Bill Homeier, the car started eleventh, but finished last after a pit accident on lap 74. The following year, it was driven by Sam Hanks, started sixth but finished nineteenth after experiencing transmission problems on Lap 134. 

The car had it's best result in the 1956 race, finishing second, again with Sam Hanks as it's driver. After the 1957 race, the car was sold to a group of Indianapolis businessmen who owned the Safety Auto Glass Company on Southeastern Avenue. Despite several attempts over the next few years, the car never again qualified for the "500." During it's last appearance on the track in 1961, the car was backed into the Turn Four wall by driver Bill Randall. 

Since it was probably outdated and had become uncompetitive, the car's owners put the car on the roof of the business, crumpled tail and all, where it has been since. It was blown off the roof during a storm in 1964, but was quickly returned to it's perch.

The car has borne the dreams of men with honor, been driven by two who went on to win the Indy 500, and itself finished as high as second. From distinguished career, to decoration, to derelict it straddles the corner of the building. Traces of its lettering and numbers remain as it decays, like the painting of Dorian Grey, taking on the ravages and disappointments of time. Each year we renew our own Indy hopes and dreams with newer, faster cars and young men and women to drive them.

We age, but the dream remains young.


dive said...

Speedway, your post is a fine and fitting monument to a great and worthy car. I only wish somebody got it into their heads to restore and race it again. I see many cars just like it tearing around the circuit during the Goodwood Revival meeting each year here in Blighty (some of them with their original drivers, now in their eighties and still racing hard and occasionally spinning off into the tyre barriers).
This car deserves a much more noble fate than to sit and rot on top of a shop. It makes my heart ache to see it.

Speedway said...

G'morning, Dive! Last night, I was looking on-line for pictures of the car from its racing days, but found none. I found a lot of others from that era, though, that have been restored. Maybe there are sufficient representatives, then, so no one feels the need to beg the business for the remains of the Kurtis-Kraft.

My guess is that the business' owners have come to regard the "roof car" as a distinguishing mark for their (drab) building and would be reluctant to part with it.

The first time I saw the car, I was surprised at my conflicted feelings. Was I supposed to be amused? Awed? Just, huh? It hurt to see it. It made me sad. The cars were expensive, even then, so maybe what they saw as a lo$$, they thought they could get some use from as a promotional gimmick.

dive said...

It does look sad sitting up there. But then I am reassured by the hundreds of race cars from the 20s to the 60s that I see regularly racing here, fully restored and loved. The thing I love about the Goodwood Revival meeting (apart from the fact that tens of thousands of us are all dressed in period costume) is that the cars are really RACED; there's no pretty parades of restored cars. Every year we see lots of prangs and the wrecks are carried back to the pits to be restored and raced again.
The current generation of Grand Prix, LeMans and Indy drivers love to race these drifty, twitchy old machines against the older drivers (and the older drivers usually win).
To see Carol Shelby grinning his face off on the pit wall while a bunch of mid-60s Shelby Cobras tear down the straight is a joy to my old heart.

Speedway said...

Here's a bit of a treat for you - the restoration of Jim Clark's Lotus. The man in the striped shirt being interviewed is Walter Goodwin, who has a race car restoration business near here. He was my neighbor 30 years ago when he was still working to learn his skills from another restorer. I supposed he inherited the business. Haven't seen him in like forever, but I wished I could've worked with/for him as this is something I would've enjoyed.

dive said...

Nice to see Clive and the boys and hoorah for another link between us.
I'm emailing you a photo of my brother Phil with the completed car. He painted it.

DeannaLynn said...

Sara, you are an inspiration!

Speedway said...

Hi, Deanna, and thanks for visiting. Thank you for the compliment.