Today’s quarter midgets, like those of the past, are often purchased, built and prepped by families and ultimately raced by young drivers who eventually outgrow their race cars and/or, move on to other activities or forms of motorsports. Often the cars are passed on to younger siblings or sometimes sold to friends or other interested parties.
I ask you to take a moment and look far into the future -- say, 2065!
The young drivers I mentioned above are now maturing adults, nearing retirement age. Something triggers a thought of a time 55 years earlier; a time when families gathered and experienced the thrill of quarter midget competition with young boys and girls behind the wheel of scaled-down race cars.
Among those thoughts of the exciting times with the family, five or six decades ago, is one that is nagging at you -- “Whatever happened to that great blue, #56 NC [or Stanley, A&J, Talon, BullRider, Fiser, et al] that I drove to victory in the Lt. “AA” Main at the Western Grands in Austin in 2010?” Don’t laugh! Your young driver may awaken some morning, 50+ years from now and wonder -- “Gee,-- dad sold my old quarter midget back in 2013 to Uncle Gregg, who then, years later, sold it to his good buddy Lance, and he . . . and he . . . gosh I don’t know what happened to it after that. I wonder where my car is now?”
A number of years ago I wrote about a situation similar to the one I just described. Harry Jr. and Jo-Ann Brunnhoelzl raced with the Long Island Junior Motorsports Club and Nassau Quarter Midget Association in the 1950s. Over the years both lost track of the cars that their dad, Harry Sr., built. A series of events lead me to find Jo-Ann’s car in the hands of Malcolm Church, in of all places, Shepperton, Australia.
Years later, I told the tale of Dean Lowe, the very successful young chauffeur of Indy Car builder Frank Kurtis’ first production quarter midget. I told of my collaboration with Dean to build a replica of his
#93 Kurtis “Buzz Bomb.” This, in some small measure filled a void for Dean, whose car, to this day, is among the missing. The companion to Dean’s car was his brother Jack’s #92 Kurtis, christened with the moniker, “Hot Dog Jack” with an accompanying graphic depicting a hot dog in a bun.
The rest of this story is about brothers Jack and Dean Lowe and their link to the past through John Gunsaulis. Jack lives near the San Joaquin Valley community of Visalia, CA. While Dean lives in southern California. John is a resident of eastern Washington state, specifically, the Spokane Valley area.
Jack spent several years tearing up tracks throughout the western United States including Phoenix where he was crowned “B” Class National Champion in 1957. Jack last drove the “Hot Dog” in the closing days of the 1950s. Soon after, it was sold, along with his brother’s #93. Both of the Lowe cars first stop was with Charles “Scotty” Scott Sr., of Scotty’s Muffler Service in San Bernardino, CA. Scotty had a long history of involvement in motor racing including quarter midgets with his son, “Billy the Kid” Scott, behind the wheel.
After spending time in Scotty’s stable of quarter midgets, it appears that he sold the two cars with Jack’s Kurtis making its way to Vacaville, CA. Vacaville is a community situated between Sacramento and San Francisco. It was in Vacaville where the new owner replaced the “Hot Dog Jack” with “Klotz Auto Parts Spl”. The graphic (a hot dog in a bun) remained on the hood along with the gold leaf #92 and several of the original product decals.
It was in the mid to late ’70s, when John Gunsaulis’ dad, Richard “Speedy” Gunsaulis purchased, among other things, the #92 Kurtis. John relates that his dad “. . . heard about a couple midgets for sale outside of Deep Creek, WA. He thought he was going out to see two full size midgets, but when he got there it was a Kurtis quarter midget and a Moss half midget on a double decker trailer.” It seems the fellow that owned the two cars was in the US Air Force, stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base outside of Spokane. John recalls, “At first [my dad] was going to pass on the pair but his friend talked him into [purchasing] the cars for my sister and [me].” John’s folks would take him and his sister out to drive the cars on occasion. They soon found out that the cars did not meet the rules for competition of the 1970 era quarter midgets.
John indicated that the story of the #92 might have ended there -- but he, like his dad, who had a ’32 Ford roadster that he showed in the Pacific northwest, decided
to show the Kurtis on the trailer, pulled behind his own restored Ford “Woody”. An interesting turn of events occurred about 6 years ago when a friend, Dennis Manfredo e-mailed a photo to me from a magazine, that showed a black vintage quarter midget on a trailer behind an old Ford “Woody”. I recognized the car as looking very much like the #93 replica that I had built of Dean’s Kurtis. I forwarded the photo to Dean, but neither of us was able to track down the owner at that time.
Then, in 2009, events took a more positive turn and Jack was eventually reunited with the “Hot Dog”. That portion of the story begins with John Gunsaulis’ attendance at a swap meet with a friend who was into vintage race cars. John’s “gearhead” buddy told him that he thought he saw his Kurtis quarter midget on the HAMB thread (I had to look this up. If you are as ignorant as I was, HAMB stands for Hokie A** Message Board).
When he got home and looked it up, he realized it was not his but the
#93 Kurtis. The message and photo had been posted on HAMB by Dean Lowe.
John relates that, “I knew that there was another car through its appearance in vintage hot rod magazines from the 1950s and [also from] a run in with the clone [of the #93] at Justice Brothers Racing Museum”. John goes on to say that “ My Mom actually saw it there and took me to see it . . . somehow I never crossed paths with the Lowe brothers until I emailed Dean on the HAMB. He hooked me up with Jack’s phone number and the connection was on.”
In August of last year Jack and Dean Lowe finally met with John Gunsaulis at the Goodguys Car Show in Pleasanton, CA. He brought the
#92 Kurtis down from Spokane for the Lowe brothers to see. They both marveled as to how much it appeared as it did when it was last driven by Jack Lowe those many decades ago. Some of the lettering had been altered as previously mentioned. Jack said that the majority of the black paint that his father applied, was original. However, more was to come!
The trios’ next meeting was scheduled to be at the Grand National Roadster Show held in Pomona, CA in January of this year. The intention was to display the newly “found” #92; Dean’s #93 replica that I built; and their Dad’s full size Kurtis midget. But unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts they were not able to pull off the “reunion” of the three cars.
In the meantime John got the car ready for its appearance at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, CA. Unbeknownst to Jack, he removed the “Klotz” lettering and had his good friend Jeff Allison redo the “Hot Dog Jack” and the pin stripping on the top of the hood. John also found, upon removing the old lettering, that some of the original decals were still intact under the paint. To help achieve accuracy, Jack let John borrow the very extensive scrapbook that the Lowe family had kept of each of the boy’s exploits on the track. In addition, Jack gave John his original racing helmet and as he was quick to add, also my “Good Luck Duck” that was tied around the steering shaft. At the show itself, Dean gave John the original gas can upon which his dad, Buzz, had etched the #92.
Jack’s renewed relationship with the “Hot Dog Jack” had him muse about how the upholstery, which was still the original (rare in vintage quarter midgets) was still in very good shape. Jack also noted, “I can still remember my Dad having a hard time snapping the last snap on the headrest.” The brothers will donate a couple detailing pieces, like an original hand-built “Buzz” Lowe exhaust and a 3/4” Amal carb which will make this “Survivor” complete.
At the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona the car was on display with an enormous blow up of the original “Pit Pass” from the 1957 Phoenix Grand Nationals. Strewn around the car were smaller versions of pit passes that Jack’s Mom had kept in the scrapbook. Speaking of Mom, the Lowe brothers took her to view the car at Pomona. They said she was very tickled to once again see the “Hot Dog Jack”. Someone quipped that the #92 was a true “Survivor”.
Gunsaulis plans to restore the tandem Frank Kurtis built trailer and intends to bring it down to Duarte for a photo shoot at the Justice Brothers Racing Museum -- thus bringing together “old friends” -- Kurtis #92, Kurtis replica #93 and the tandem trailer. It should be a hoot!
The #92 Kurtis-Kraft quarter midget in 1956 with Jack Lowe aboard the “Hot Dog Jack.”"“Jack (left) and brother Dean standing beside the tandem trailer the family used to tour the country with the “Hot Dog Jack” and the “Buzz Bomb.”“The “Hot Dog Jack” in its Klotz Auto Parts livery after being sold to a party in Vacaville, CA.
“ Jack Lowe stands behind the car as it appears today with the “Hot Dog Jack” lettering and pinstripping once again appearing on the hood at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona
The “Hot Dog Jack” at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona
The “Hot Dog Jack” at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona
The 1957 Quarter Midget Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona , December 28th & 29th