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The Journal Gazette

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette K&K Insurance underwriters Joe Repass, left, and Warren Mead take a photo Wednesday of the historical marker provided by the Indiana Racing Memorial Association that shows the company's contribution to motorsports.

  • Bettenhausen

Thursday, May 11, 2017 1:00 am

Local firm's legacy ensured

1st company to insure racers, tracks gets historical marker

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

Sometimes little ideas turn into really big things.

On Wednesday, racing enthusiasts paid homage to an idea that started in Fort Wayne.

Back in 1952, Nord Krauskopf was a roofer, an occupation that has its hazards.

Krauskopf's hobby, though, is what posed the greatest risk. Krauskopf and his wife, Teddi, were both race car drivers.

Back then, most drivers held regular jobs during the day and pursued racing as a sideline, but the hobby was so risky that no insurance company anywhere would sell racers insurance.

The Krauskopfs had seen drivers pass the hat to help injured drivers pay medical bills, and they knew drivers who had been devastated financially after being injured.

So Krauskopf started an insurance company to manage and market a benevolent fund for injured racers.

The company went to the only outfit in the world that would take such risks – Lloyds of London – to find coverage, and for the first time both professional and amateur racers had some security in their lives.

K&K Insurance, as the company is known, is no longer a kitchen table operation. It is celebrating its 65th year in business, and Wednesday the Indiana Racing Memorial Association honored the company with a historical marker, recognizing the contributions it has made to motorsports.

Todd Bixler, president and CEO of K&K, spoke about the changes K&K brought to racing.

In racing there's never been a question of whether there would be an accident, Bixler said. It was going to happen, and sometimes fans standing on the edge of the track were involved.

And when an accident did happen, everyone was on their own.

K&K brought standards to race tracks, at first suggesting but then requiring walls and fences to protect people in the stands. Not only did drivers enjoy some security, but the fans were safer and track owners were offered some protection if a spectator was injured.

What K&K accomplished actually saved auto racing in the United States, said Bob Gates, a board member of the Racing Memorial Association.

In this day of high liability, Gates said, track owners wouldn't be able to hold races if not for K&K.

“You couldn't do it. It would be impossible,” he said. Without K&K's ability to offer insurance and its creation of safety standards, “You wouldn't see much in the way of auto racing in the United States.”

One of the speakers at the ceremony was Merle Bettenhausen, once one of K&K's clients. Betternhausen joked that he was chosen to be a speaker because he crashed so much.

In 1972, Bettenhausen crashed in the Michigan 200, severing his right arm and burning his face and legs.

He spent two months in the hospital after the crash, but he had $20,000 in insurance from K&K. When he was released from the hospital, he got his bill. It was for $19,763.

K&K has its competitors today, but it is still the largest insurer in motorsports. In 1982, it branched out, offering insurance in 70 categories, such as zoos, professional and college sports and concerts.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.