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
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’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.”.
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1931 22 Coleman Motors Qualified, withdrawn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
Safety and fuel economy were big concerns in 1934 as
the Speedway tried 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 the West 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,
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.
|Notice there is a car on the track and
that the track looks to be paved in bricks.
|Peter Kreis (driving for Studebaker) meets Henry Ford - 1932
|The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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