One photo can take a historian on a very long journey. This wonderful picture from the 1950s, did just that.
Very often pictures pop up that are unidentified or even misidentified. Questions are always asked, what year, what kind of car is it, what results did it have, who are the people in the picture and on and on. I gladly help folks out at no charge, to ID photos for their personal collections. Many times it’s easy and some require homework to be done. This picture is one I purchased in a group of unknown photographs that needed more researching.
You would think a nicely built race car with a laughing horse and the name “Esmeralda” would make things easy. Maybe easy if it was the 1950s when the race was just a few years ago. When this picture popped up, it was in the early 2000’s, when those small details are not readily available. Currently there isn’t a recognizable format for asking the PPIHC group historical questions. (Good luck with that) . Most folks close to the hill climb end up asking me about unknown cars and photograph ID’s. Once again, I was on my own and researching this one photo opened up a whole new world. The world of Hollywood.
First part of the problem was a reasonably easy question. What kind of car is it. Frank Kurtis, in my opinion built some of the most beautiful and well built cars to ever run at the Indy 500. This car is a Kurtis Kraft or better known as a model KK2000. The hill climb was ran with the help of the AAA who also controlled the Indy race and was a mainstay in racing for decades. Believe it or not, many cars in the late 40s and 50s ran both at the Indianapolis 500 and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. (Crazy , I know) Next question is who was the driver and owner. Trouble with that issue, still remains to this day. There is no printed complete official results list for the PPHC. The famous Hill Climb author Stanley DeGeer of Colorado Springs fixed most of that problem when he published the book “The Pikes Peak Race” in 1990. Great book with about a 90 percent accuracy. Car numbers are not always listed and the biggest problem with the Open Wheel Class cars is how the cars are listed in results. Some times by engine type Ford Special, Whipett Spl etc.. and some times by sponsors, Sil’s Barn, Auto Shippers, etc. basically whatever the owners wanted to see in the entry list and program. Stan’s book is still the best place to start and by looking at the photograph, the car in the back and the cloths the folks were wearing said late 40’s early 50s. Luckily a few #63 cars are listed, just a matter of matching things up.
What about Hollywood !
Oh yeah, Hollywood . This is where the fun begins. Esmeralda, that should be an easy thing to find out about , how many cars have laughing horses and that name ? Turned out harder then I thought. did find a mention in a Speed Age magazine from 1950 about a car racing at Pikes Peak that also had something to do with the movie “To Please a Lady” with Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck . I was hooked . (Time to go down the rabbit hole). Watched the movie did some research and bamm. There was a KK2000 in that movie, but which one ? The one in the movie was Don Lee’s car that ran Indy and was serial number 319. Didn’t match up with the car #63 that raced Pikes Peak, by Johnny Mauro and George Hammond. Another KK2000 is also listed as being “Seen” in the Clark Gable movie. That car was owned by Leo Dobry. Luckily in another Speed Age article Leo Dobry was listed as the owner of the car George Hammond ran in 1952 (Walt Woestman wrote excellent PPHC articles in the 50s) . A long way down the rabbit hole now, but that is the road a historian has to take at times.
Bing Cosby and Bob Hope
What about the name Esmeralda and the laughing horse? Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sponsored the car at the 1951 Indianapolis 500. (Car didnt qualify) Both were golf enthusiasts and played at the Esmeralda Open golf tournament in 1949. Which was ran by the “Spokane Athletic Round Table” In 1950, the ART was developing a new golf course. Their emblem was a Laughing Horse head inside a circle. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby used that logo on the race car to help the group raise funds to build the new Esmeralda Golf Course.
Starting from an unidentified photograph, to Clark Gable, by the way of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and ending at a gold course. That is the way Hollywood met the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race.
Results for KK2000 #317
1948 Indy 500 Hal Cole Qualified 18th 124.391 mph – finished 6th
1949 Indy 500 “Gentleman Jack” McGrath Qualified 8th 128.884 mph finished 26th
1950 Indy 500 Joe James failed to qualify
1951 Indy 500 Bob Gregg failed to qualify 1951 PPHC Johnny Mauro 2nd place 15:47.5
1952 Pikes Peak Hill Climb George Hammond 1st place 15:30.65
1953 Pikes Peak Hill Climb George Hammond Did Not Finish
1954 Pikes Peak Hill Climb George Hammond Did Not Finish