The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Fatalities - May 1934

Pete Kreis - driver
Bob Hahn - mechanic

Peter Kreis

Pete Kreis was from Knoxville Tennessee and had a hard-luck racing career from about age 15, when Pete’s dad bought him a car to race on the dirt tracks at county fairs.

In May of 1925, Pete brought a Duesenberg to Indy and finished 8th in his first Indy 500! Spurred on by this success, he returned the following year with a new Miler Special. However he got sick and had to let Frank Lockhart drive in the race – and Lockhart won the Indy 500 with it!

Pete Kreis

Pete Kreis’s racing luck improved at the Monza course in Italy, but he continued to have his ups-and-downs at Indy. In 1931 he qualified a car, withdrew it, and drove relief for Ralph Hepburn, who finished 3rd. In ’32 Pete drove a Studebaker in the 500 and finished 15th. Henry Ford complimented his driving in the race when he barely avoided a tire that flew off Luther Johnson’s car. After the race, Pete was injured in tire tests when he hit the north wall and broke his ribs.

Kreis’s family owned a construction business specializing in railroads and levees. Pete was trained to work in this business and he raced for thrills, not money. After he became an airplane pilot, he promised his family to give up all racing except at Indy.

Seth Klein, a starter of the 1934 race said, “He was one of the most popular men at the track – always the gentleman. He had had a lot of hard luck, because he would rather break a car in fast company than lag behind.”.


THE ACCIDENT
Safety and fuel economy are big concerns in 1934 as the Speedway tries to reduce fatalities and injuries. The starting field is reduced back to 33 cars to cut down on race day traffic. Also, to help reduce speeds, fuel is limited to 45 gallons for the race – this means the winner must average at least 11 mpg. The fastest qualifying speed this year would be 119.329 mph. Even with fuel restrictions, speeds creaped upward.

Kreis was partial to front wheel drives. He usually brought his own cars, but Fred Frame had asked him to drive the car in which Frame had won the 1932 race in.

Bob Hahn showed up at Indy with Harry Hartz. He had raced at Ascot on theWest Coast and on Eastern dirt tracks. He was wanting to start looking around Indy for a possible run at it in a few years. Somehow he ended up performing as the ride along mechanic for Kreis even though he wasn’t assigned as Kreis’s official mechanic! This would be a fateful decision for Hahn.

On their way to the Speedway one morning for practice, Pete Kreis and Cliff Bergere stopped at Michigan Street and White River Boulevard, where a serious auto accident had just occurred. One person was killed and an ambulance arrived. Since the two race drivers were unable to help, they headed for the track. Exactly an hour later, Kreis would be dead too.

What was described as “the most unusual accident in the history of the speedway”, Kreis and Hahn jumped the wall on the south end at 90 mph. A patrolman saw the car riding the top of the wall, straddling it, before finally plunging off into a tree and being torn right in half. The halves fell 25 feet from each other. The tree was the same one that Benny Benefield hit in ’32, killing his mechanic, Harry Cox.

Thrown clear of the car, Pete Kreis was killed instantly, his skull fractured and his chest crushed. Mechanic Bob Hahn was pinned in the wreckage of the rear of the car and lived only a few minutes.

Pete Kreis was unmarried.


He's buried in Asbury Cemetery on the east side of Knoxville TN.
His tombstone has an image of the Indy Speedway.

tombstone

Notice there is a car on the track and
that the track looks to be paved in bricks.

tombstone
(photos by Susan Loper)


Kreis's Indy Record

Year Car No. Car Laps Completed Start Finish
1925 35 Duesenberg 200-96.32 9 8
1927 9 Cooper 123-bent front axel 12 17
1928 32 Marmon 73-rod bearings 19 22
1929 4 Detroit 91-engine seized 17 16
25 Armacost-Miller Relieved Cliff Bergere
1931 22 Coleman Motors Qualified, withdrawn
19 Harry Miller Relieved Hepburn
who finished 3rd
1932 18 Studebaker 178-wrecked SW 17 15
1933 2 Frame-Miller 63-universal joint 11 32
1934 Miller-Hartz Wrecked in SS near SW, died

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