I Thought You Were a Goner

The Last Lap Excerpt
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The following is an excerpt from The Last Lap by William Walker. In this excerpt, read about Pete Kreis spinning out—and recovering—in Turn One of the Indy 500 track, all the way back in 1932!

On the last day of practice for the 1932 Indianapolis 500, it appeared that there would be a third fatality in the first turn, which had already claimed the lives of two participants. As Pete Kreis entered the curve in his Studebaker Special, he lost control and began a wild spin. Like Danny Sullivan who won the 1985 Indy 500 after recovering from a complete spin, Kreis caught the car after it had rotated 360 degrees, muscled the machine back onto the racing line, and continued with his run—all without missing a beat.

Sullivan won worldwide fame for his “spin-and-win” maneuver, primarily because the episode was captured on video and viewed repeatedly. Pete also attracted notoriety for his spin because of the chance presence of a famous observer in Turn One.

pete kreis at indy 500
When Pete arrived at the Speedway in 1932, he discovered that fast rides were hard to find. He settled for a “junk-formula” Studebaker which he drove to a respectable qualifying speed of 110.2 mph. IMS Photo Archive

The Indianapolis Star related the full story: “There was a gray-haired man on a holiday beside the fence by the south turn of the Speedway yesterday. Nobody paid much attention to him until he went into superlatives over the way Pete Kreis came out of a bad spin at the opening of the curve. Then folks found that the gray-haired man knew driving and cars and learned that he was Henry Ford.”

Ford, who drove his own race machines during the century’s early years, had once designed and built a car specifically for Indy. But for some reason, officials declared that the vehicle would have to carry a one-thousand-pound handicap to compete on even terms with the other roadsters. Enraged by what he considered unfair treatment, Ford abandoned his attempt and swore never to return to the Indiana track. But he did go on to compete in coast-to-coast and other long-distance races to demonstrate the reliability of his Model T. The man obviously knew automobiles and racing, and, on that day in 1932, he asked to meet the driver whose skill he had admired.

Grimy from his car’s oil and blackened by tire debris off the track, Pete walked up and respectfully shook hands with the automobile magnate.

“’Darned good,’ said Ford, ‘I thought you were a goner.’”

pete kreis and henry ford
During practice, Henry Ford saw Pete recover from a 360-degree spin in Turn One and asked to meet him. IMS Photo Archive

Check out the related books linked below for more of The Last Lap!