The Racing Capital
of the World
June 08, 2012 | By John Oreovicz
If you’re driving from Detroit to Indianapolis via Interstates 94 and 69, you’ll pass Coldwater, Michigan, a town of about 11,000 residents on the edge of Michigan’s Irish Hills region.
Whenever I’m on that route, I’ll inevitably think of Scott Brayton, the two-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner who was a resident of Coldwater. Sadly, Brayton was killed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while practicing for the 1996 ‘500.’ He was 37.
Across the border, about an hour south of Coldwater, Brayton is remembered with a display of cars and memorabilia at the Kruse Automotive and Carriage Museum. Just off Exit #126 on I-69, the Kruse Museum features a diverse range of vehicles from over the last century that will appeal to anyone who enjoys the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame collection.
The Brayton display includes the Menard V-6 powered Lolas he drove to the Indianapolis 500 pole in 1995 and ’96. Brayton’s 233.718-mph average in 1996 is actually the fastest pole speed in Indianapolis 500 history, though Arie Luyendyk set the actual track record a day later when he qualified for the ’96 500 on the second day with a 236.986 mph average.
Brayton’s fatal accident occurred after qualifying when he was practicing in his back-up car. The car on display at the Kruse Museum is the pole winner that Danny Ongais took over and drove to a seventh place finish after starting 33rd.
Another historically significant car that Scott Brayton drove at Indy is the 1985 March-Buick that he qualified in the middle of the front row. Brayton’s father, Lee, was an engine developer who was instrumental in converting a production Buick V-6 into a racing powerplant capable of running 220 mph at Indianapolis.
Brayton became synonymous with the Buick Indy program, and those ties continued when lumber magnate John Menard took over the Buick program in 1993. The Menard V-6 engine that powered Brayton’s pair of Indianapolis poles was a direct descendant of the Buick he ran so fast with in 1985.
Brayton was renowned as a bit of an Indianapolis specialist and a better qualifier than racer. As the CART-sanctioned Indy car series became more focused on road racing, Brayton’s performances suffered and by 1994, the Indianapolis 500 was the only race he ran. With the advent of the all-oval Indy Racing League sanctioned Indy car series in 1996, Brayton was on the brink of a career revival that was tragically cut short.
His best Indy car race finish was third place at the Milwaukee Mile in 1992. He finished the Indy 500 only five times, but on four of those occasions brought his car home in the top ten, including sixth place finishes in 1989 and 1993. His best finish in the CART championship was 12th in 1991.
Several other cars with IMS ties are currently on display at the Kruse Museum, including the Treadway Racing cars that finished 1-2 in the 1997 Indianapolis 500 as driven by Luyendyk and Scott Goodyear. There’s also a Richard Chidress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo similar to the one in which Dale Earnhardt won the 1995 Brickyard 400 at IMS.
Telsvision and movie buffs will enjoy a range of historic vehicles from the screen, including the A-Team van, two versions of Knight Rider cars and a Batmobile. There’s also an extensive collection of hot rods from custom builder Carl Casper that you have to see to believe.
A separate collection within the same building houses the Kruse World War II Victory Museum, and less than three miles away you can find the renowned Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum for classic cars, plus the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the U.S.
Any car or racing fan will appreciate the fascinating history of Auburn, Indiana. Make it a destination the next time you’re passing by.