When it comes to sheer, mind-warping
numbers, Frank Kurtis’s Kurtis Kraft
racecar company might take some
beating. Based in Glendale. Calif., it
produced more than 550 ready-to-run
midgets and another 600 kits from
1935 to the beginning of the ’60s.
Kurtis was a major force at the Indy
500, too. Kurtis Kraft dominated the
formative years of the roadster era,
taking five wins between 1950-’ 55,
including Bill Vukovich’s back-to-back
wins in 1953 (BELOW) and ‘ 54. At
least 20 Kurtis-built cars started every
“500” between ’ 51 and ’ 57 – the
peak being 23 of various types in ’ 56
– but the rise to prominence of
A.J. Watson’s roadsters diluted its
dominance as the 1960s approached.
ART & KRAFT
the KuRtIs sho W
1984 was the highwater mark for
UK-based March at the Indy 500, Rick
Mears’ 84C beating 28 other Marches
in his second win for Penske.
Follow The heRd
For march and Lola, the indy 500 was a lucrative, but fickle market.
However you look at it, be it his
engines or cars, Wisconsin-born,
California-domiciled Harry Miller was
a dominant force at the Indy 500 for
much of the 1920s and ’30s. Miller
engines powered the Indy 500 winner
12 times between 1922 and 1938,
with five of those victories coming in
Miller-built cars. Numerically, the
zenith was 1927, with 24 of the 33
starters built by Miller. Frank Lockhart
had won in a Miller the previous year,
and took the first 120mph-plus pole in
’ 27 (BELOW). But after dominating
for 300 miles, his engine failed,
allowing Indiana native George
Souders to comfortably beat the
Miller hordes and give Duesenberg
a fourth and final “500” victory.
i T’s milleR’s Time
DePRessIon eRA DoMInAnCe
For decades, anyone wanting a competitive,
cost-effective GT racer has been able to call
Porsche and sign up for the latest iteration
of the 911. During the 1980s and early
’90s, a similarly pain-free path was laid out
for Indy car teams wanting a competitive
car without the hassle, expense and
uncertainty of an in-house project.
Nowadays, everybody runs the same
spec Dallara DW12. But then, putting a
deposit down with March or Lola for a
state-of-the-art chassis ready to receive
your engine of choice – the ubiquitous
Cosworth DFX through much of the ’80s
– was natural selection at 200mph-plus.
If the teams liked what you made one
season, expect a surge of demand the
next. If they didn’t, their instant feedback
came straight off a company’s bottom
line. Greatness was bestowed on a car via
market forces and orders generated.
With its European markets squeezed by
Ralt’s F3 dominance and the decline of F2,
Robin Herd’s UK-based March Engineering
moved into Indy cars in ’ 81 and soon
enjoyed a near monopoly. In the ’ 84 Indy
500, 29 of the 33 starters were from
March. Five straight wins between ’ 83
and ’ 87 – including three for the usually
self-building Penske – kept demand high.
But the tide was turning. Lola returned
in ’ 83 with U.S. importer Carl Haas and
Newman/Haas Racing and began to make
inroads. By ’ 88, it had numerical superiority
and would keep it, despite the rise of
Reynard, through to 1996’s CART/IRL split.
March, meanwhile, was virtually done by the
end of the ’80s – the market had spoken.
1988-’ 95, Lola’s
1990 win with Arie
Luyendyk was a
thanks to Penske
building its own
just the one
13 cars of varying age made
Penske numerically dominant
at the 1981 Indy 500. three
March 81Cs also started. A
year on, March was dominant,
with 17 cars in the field, rising
to 29 in ’ 84 – 88 percent of the
starters. Lola came close to
matching it in the early ’90s.
the BRItIsh InvAsIon
number of cars
LoLa PacKs The fieLd
The march era
*RECORD. 29 cars = 87.9% of the field.