Sixty-five years after it started by passing the hat, a Fort Wayne business and sports pioneer's dream was celebrated Wednesday and now will be remembered forever.
A roofing contractor and local racer, Nord Krauskopf competed at South Anthony Speedway and Fort Wayne Speedway. There was no insurance for drivers, so he would collect $1 from racers for a benevolent fund in case someone got hurt. After a few crashes, the fund was quickly depleted.
Krauskopf had an idea to start selling insurance to race tracks, and in 1952 he contracted through Lloyd's of London and started touring race tracks. In order to be insured, tracks had to add safety measures such as mesh fences in front of the stands and guard rails around both sides of the track.
That's how Fort Wayne's K&K Insurance was started, beginning at the kitchen table of Nord and Theodora "Teddi" Krauskopf's 3015 Bowser Ave. kitchen table. K&K was the only company selling insurance to tracks, and 65 years later the insurance giant employs approximately 350 and takes in about $500 million annual in premiums across various fields and sports, with 10 percent of the business still pertaining to racing.
“From the humble beginnings, K&K has grown to be a leader in the nation in motor sports, sports, leisure and entertainment insurance,” said K&K CEO Todd Bixler. “That's a very broad growth and a very broad view of insuring the world's fun, which is what our motto is. If people are in the U.S. and Canada and are trying to do activities having fun and entertainment, we want to be there insuring them.”
The business was recognized Wednesday by the Indiana Racing Memorial Association with a permanent display outside the company's headquarters at 1712 Magnavox Way. It's the 23rd marker placed across the state by IRMA since 2014 to recognize Indiana's racing heritage.
However, K&K's story goes deeper into racing than just insurance. As a marketing idea, Nord decided to run a team in NASCAR in 1966 with a five-year plan to win the points championship; thus the car number was 71. Harry Hyde, a racing hall of famer and eventually one of the inspirations for the racing movie "Days of Thunder," was the crew chief and Gordon Johncock was the team's first driver.
The team struggled through 1966 and 1967, but Krauskopf had another plan. Because so many NASCAR races were held on short tracks, he decided to hire a short-track specialist to drive, so Bobby Isaac joined the team in 1967. Isaac started 11 races that season and finished in the top five three times. Isaacs won three races in 1968 and finished second in the points standings. He won 17 races in 1969 to finish sixth.
In 1970, Year 4 of Nord's five-year plan, Isaac switched back and forth from a Dodge Charger for the short tracks and a Dodge Daytona for the super-speedways. The year started with Isaac trailing Richard Petty in the point standings. When Petty suffered a shoulder injury a third of the way through the season, Isaac passed him for the points lead.
Isaac put together a streak of 13 races with top-6 finishes to blast past everyone, clinching the title with one race to go on the schedule, finishing 22 points ahead of Bobby Allison for the closest margin in NASCAR's then-22 year history.
After having such drivers as Buddy Baker, Bobby Unser, Neil Bonnett, Dave Marcis, Bobby Allison and Johncock, K&K left the NASCAR circuit in 1977, the same year Isaac passed away from a heart attack after a race. Nord retired from the business in 1979 before he died in 1986. Hyde passed away in 1996, and Teddi in 2005.
Isaac was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2016.
“This is about Nord's initial vision of what he wanted to grow K&K to be and how he wanted to create that expertise within the motor sports universe,” Bixler said, “and all the hard work of the K&K employees who are here today and in the past who have really grown and helped K&K become one of the largest underwriters in the U.S. today specializing within this niche.”
For more on local racing, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at @blakesebring and on Facebook at Blake Sebring.