New from the motor racing stable of publisher Octane Press, The Last Lap is an inquest into the fast life and mysterious death of racing driver Pete Kreis, killed in practice at the 1934 Indianapolis 500. A fast-paced narrative that reads like a novel, author and historian William Walker’s lifelong obsession with his cousin’s mysterious death creates a rich storyline that takes readers back to the glamorous and dangerous times that marked the beginning of automotive competition.
From his early days of racing on back-country dirt roads of his native Knoxville, Tennessee, to the glory days of piloting cutting-edge Duesenbergs and Millers on world-famous tracks, Kreis led a colorful life. But he was driven to win the biggest race in the world: the Indy 500. Written by William Walker, historian, automobile enthusiast, and notably Kreis’s own cousin.
Over the past century, the world of motor racing has witnessed many mysterious deaths, few could be more puzzling as the crash that killed the promising young driver. Son of a wealthy contractor, Pete Kreis started racing on the Indy circuit in 1925 and blazed a career on American tracks and at Monza, Italy, in Grand Prix competition. Known as a master of front-drive Miller cars, he met his demise at the 1934 Indianapolis 500. Piloting a front-drive race car in practice, Kreis crashed into Turn One, rode along the top of the retaining wall for seventy-five feet, and careened down an embankment at the south end of the oval. As the car smashed into a tree in the backyard of a nearby house, both he and his mechanic were killed.
A year later, an informal coroner’s jury of Indy drivers, Speedway officials, and racing experts examined the Kreis accident in detail. They determined that he was traveling at a relatively slow speed, that his car had no mechanical defects, that there were no impediments on the track, and that Kreis himself had taken no evasive action to indicate that he tried to avoid his fate. The jury noted that he “was apparently in the best of health and spirits” but could not explain the circumstances. They were forced to conclude that his demise was “the strangest death in all racing history.” The exact cause of his crash has been a mystery ever since.
Years later, author William Walker, a devoted fan of the Indy 500, was inspired by a 1935 newspaper clipping detailing the circumstances of the unsolved mystery to determine the cause of his cousin’s death. For more than sixty years he interviewed Pete’s racing colleagues and many members of the family who grew up with the mercurial driver, visiting all the tracks that Kreis had raced, consulting numerous archives, and re-examining hundreds of eye-witness accounts of Kreis’s racing exploits and death. Walker was finally able to reach his own compelling and tragic conclusion. Written with all the authority of the best historic racing narratives and with the added edge of a period thriller, The Last Lap will appeal to fans of motor racing and suspense fiction alike.
With an official release date that coincides with the 2023 running of the Indy 500 on May 28th, the book is available for pre-order now from Octane Press, or wherever books are sold.