Jerry Karl 1941-2008

Gerald “Jerry” Karl was not a household name. Even those interested in today’s Indy Car racing may not have heard of him. However, those that closely followed the sport of Indy Car racing in the 1970’s knew who Jerry Karl was. Tragically, Jerry was killed Saturday in a highway accident in Maryland on February 16, he was 66.

Jerry competed in 79 races during sixteen seasons between 1969 and 1984 with a career best finish of 7th at the Ontario Motor Speedway in 1974. Those who watched the nationally televised CART race at Phoenix in 1980 will forever remember Jerry Karl. Driving his own “Karl” chassis in which he heavily reworked an aging McLaren M-16 chassis in his Wellsville, Pennsylvania shop, Jerry thrilled all those in attendance and those watching on television. Jerry battled his Lew Parks wrenched Chevy stock-block car through the field by passing Mario Andretti in his heavily financed Penske PC-9B into second place. Jerry playing the role of the classic underdog, he fought off Andretti to the delight of the cheering crowd, unfortunately, engines woes sidelined him late in the race. Anybody who watched that race may have forgotten Tom Sneva eventually won, but nobody forgot Jerry Karl’s spirited run.

Jerry cut his racing teeth in the 1960’s in the competitive ARDC midget ranks and the tough URC sprint car circuit. Jerry made his Indy Car debut at tough high banked Dover track in 1969. Teamed up in 1973 with legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick and his twin-turbo-stock block program Jerry was able to crack the prestigious Indianapolis 500 field. Smokey and his trademark cowboy hat and the black and gold Eagle chassis were a crowd favorite and competed in the three 500’s and the two Milwaukee Mile races in 1973. However the experimental engine experienced many teething problems.

Yunick?s team missed the 1974 Indy 500 when Sammy Sessions and several others were left in the qualifying line when the final gun went off ending qualifying on the final day. Jerry drove for the prestigious Lindsay Hopkins team in a year old Eagle. Jerry got into the top five the 125 mile mark, but blew a tire, putting Jerry backwards into the wall in turn three. Jerry suffered a leg puncture wound and neck strain. Smokey and Jerry reunited for 1975 and Jerry made the “500” field again for the third straight year. The 1975 entry was the first to use synthetic oil in the engine and transaxle in the Indy 500. After missing the “500” field in 1976 and 1977, Jerry made it back in the Indy 500 field in 1978 driving the Machinists Union sponsored McLaren-Offy. Eventually, Jerry competed in six Indianapolis 500’s between 1973-1981, with a best finish of 13th place in 1975.

Interesting enough, Jerry showed his versatility by driving in several Formula 5000 and Can-Am races and even setting qualifying records at both the Watkins Glen six hour and the Daytona twenty-four hour races in the Weiss Motorsports Porsche. Jerry always gave a good accounting of himself on the track and was well-respected by his peers. A proficient pilot, Jerry held commercial, multi-engine and instrument ratings for both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. Andretti-Green team member Dave Reininger remembered that Jerry’s son Scott, used his father’s old Indy Car transporter for his sprint car. Reininger remembered, “Although it was kind of dated, it was always cool to see it show up at tracks like Williams Grove and Lincoln.”

Jerry was a member of the Elks Lodge in Stevensville, Md., Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Club, and York County Racing Club. He is survived by wife, Linda, daughter, Donna L. Krumm and her husband, Dave of Oregon, Ill.; a son, Scott E. Karl and his wife, Stacey of Wellsville; eight grandchildren, Elizabeth, Christine, Scotty, Tasha, Terra, James, Paul and Matthew; and a brother, James Karl of Valley Stream , N.Y. He was preceded in death by a son, James E. ‘Jimmy’ Karl. Jerry was owner of Karl Racing Performance Warehouse in Wellsville, Pennsylvania. Jerry Karl will be missed by many in the racing community.

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