Kurt Kossmann Archives
Miami Herald, The (FL)
February 21, 1990 Section: SPORTS Edition: FINAL Page: 1C
MIRACLE MILES AT TOP SPEED ONE-LEGGED DRIVER ENTERS
PRIX PRELIM GREG COTE Herald Sports Writer A young and little-
known race driver spent the early summer of 1988 building a big lead
midway through the Spenard-David Formula 2000 Challenge, a series
of open-cockpit races in Ontario offering $100,000 to the champion.
Trouble was, when he should have been speeding toward fortune and
fame in the second half of the series, Kurt Kossmann was undergoing
21 chemotherapy treatments and, finally, having a cancerous leg
amputated. His doctors figured they were amputating Kossmann's
career, too. All medical opinion held that his boyhood dreams set on
a racetrack would disappear as suddenly and irretrievably as most of
his left leg. Miami Grand Prix spectators will see otherwise this
weekend. They will see Miracle Miles at top speed. They'll see
Kossmann at the wheel of blue-and-white car No. 4 in Sunday's
Barber Saab preliminary race. With a specially designed artificial leg
fitted onto a specially designed clutch pedal. "At least it was my left
leg," he deadpanned. Kossmann doesn't use his clutch, anyway,
except to startfrom a stopped position. He has learned to shift by
matching gear speed with engine speed. But the right leg controls the
brake and accelerator. Had fate taken his right leg, Kossmann said, "I
would have had to learn to use my left for that. It would have been
difficult. But I would have done it." Cancer crawling up from his left
knee took Kossmann's leg Aug. 31, 1988. There has been no
recurrence of the cancer. Kossmann, a 1987 racing-school graduate,
has competed only once since the amputation, in an October race in
Canada cut short by engine trouble. Miami this weekend will mark the
first major step in his comeback, in the highest-class category he has
yet attempted. "This is what I've wanted to do all my life," Kossmann,
of Scituate, Mass., said Tuesday at a relative's home in Hialeah. He is
awaiting Friday's first practice laps on the downtown track. "This is
basically why I survived." Bigger-name drivers steering faster cars in
the Miami Grand Prix itself may dominate attention, but perhaps no
auto racer has earned as much of it as Kossmann. Others have done
what he is doing, but the instances are rare. Historians call Bill
Schindler the most famous "one-legged" driver, and it was in the
1940s when he was a midget-car champion and ran at Indy. Once his
clutch-pedal apparatus was sanctioned, Kossmann had to
demonstrate an ability to get quickly out of his cockpit in case of
emergency before his full racing license was reaffirmed. Kossmann
hopes that the Barber Saab Series opening in Miami will be his
springboard to a career in Formula One and Indy cars. The 12-race
stepping-stone series matches 31 ascending pro drivers in equally
prepared Indy-style cars (open wheel/open cockpit) powered by stock
Saab Turbo engines. Two qualifying heats Saturday will precede
Sunday's 11:15 a.m. start of a sprint that figures to last about 30
minutes. "The driver makes the difference in this series," Kossmann
said, "rather than who has the biggest wallet." Racing cars at up to
160 miles per hour with one leg isn’t all his "handicap" doesn’t
prevent Kossmann from doing. He continues as a licensed pilot, with
training in aerobatic stunts. He is a ski instructor on the slopes of Blue
Hills, Mass. He is a marksman with handgun or rifle. So, this guy's got
a danger fetish, or what? "I don't know if it's danger. It's being as close
as you can to the edge of control and holding yourself there for as
long as you can," he said. "I feel most in control in a race car. It's
where I'm happiest. If you go over the edge, the results can be
disastrous, or at least expensive. It's an elite group. To be there, you
have to be somebody special." (It's not all about danger. Kossmann
has won awards for wood sculpture, too.) "I can do anything now I
could do before," he said, and smiled, "except run as fast. If I were a
marathoner, I would be a little more concerned." Fortune has yet to
discover Kossmann (he still seeks a sponsor for this weekend), but
fame apparently is about to. The nationally syndicated TV series Hard
Copy has taped a segment on him scheduled to air Thursday. A made-
for-TV movie is in the planning stage, with all three networks
interested. Kossmann wants to play himself; he has been promised a
screen test. "I think we may have a pretty inspiring situation," he said.
"There were times when I didn't know if I would even survive. The
chemotherapy was devastating, physically and mentally. Now, it's very
important for me to get out in the public eye in a positive way. "It's a
good opportunity to give people hope."