Douglas. C. Kruse (1936 - 2017) Lifestory published with the kind permission of Glen Kruse.
Douglas Christian Kruse was born in Erlanger, Kentucky in 1936, but from an early age was reared in the Washington, D.C. area. Growing up in Takoma Park, Maryland, he became interested in hot rods as a teenager. He joined one of the local hot rod clubs, the D.C. Dragons and was active in organizing the first legal drag races and auto shows around the capital city.
One of his first hot rods was a grey primered 1939 Ford two-door sedan powered by a DeSoto Hemi engine. He raced it in the late 1950s at York, Aquasco, Manassas and other mid-Atlantic tracks. He also used the Ford to commute to the University of Maryland where he was studying engineering.
Doug worked his way through college doing various jobs that included; draftsman at a local design firm, research assistant at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and he even made a few bucks striping cars at auto shows. In 1960 Doug decided to take some time off from school and visit Southern California. For Eastern hot rodders this was the equivalent of a country singer going to Nashville.
SoCal was where everything was happening. Doug's first stop was Reath Automotive in Long Beach where he met Robert Johnson, better known as Jocko. That chance meeting would influence the rest of Doug's life. Jocko was building an aluminum bodied, streamlined dragster, teaching himself the craft as he went along. Doug helped and was soon good enough at forming aluminum to build a cowl and tail section for a local racer. It was part time work - Doug had found a job designing toys for Mattel - but it would become a career.
Jocko's red-and-white streamliner was both an inspiration for Doug and his first attempt at aluminum forming. It also stimulated Doug's interest in streamlining and, beginning in the early 1960s, Doug specialized in designing and building aluminum bodies for Top Fuel dragsters and soon enough Doug opened the first of a series of shops around Southern California and built race car bodies and components for many of drag racing's biggest stars.
He built over 100 such creations for star racers such as Connie Kalitta, the Ramchargers, Tom McEwen and Pete Robinson. When Funny Cars came along, he fabricated their parts as well.
Among Doug's clients was the Ferguson Racing Team. Doug formed panels for several of their dry lakes and Bonneville race cars. The work furthered his education in aerodynamics. He also drove one of the Ferguson racers, an XO/GS streamliner, to a record speed of 179.895 at El Mirage Dry Lake.
He also became deeply involved in other aspects of the sport, particularly in promoting the growth of professional drag racing.
In 1967, Doug was instrumental in the creation of the Professional Dragster Association, ultimately becoming its President and Race Director. The group succeeded in raising purses for Top Fuel teams and produced some of the most memorable races in the history of the sport, especially the 1967 PDA event at Lions Drag Strip which hosted a turnout of 94 fuel dragsters competing for spots in a 64 car field. Hard to imagine today, when 16 car fields are the norm at national events.
Over the years, Doug expanded his fabrication business. He designed and built custom components and prototypes for clients whose products ranged from mail handling systems to motor coach grilles.
He was also involved with the design and build of many components for the modified World War II fighter planes run in the Reno Air races. Among these were the Tsunami and the famous Red Baron P-51 Mustang, which set the propeller powered airplane speed record of 499.047 mph in 1979. This was work which introduced Doug to engineers from Lockheed's famous Skunk Works from whom he learned a great deal about aerodynamics and streamlining.
All the while, Doug was continuing his education with classes at UCLA in business management. He was also an active member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, serving in leadership roles and publishing several papers.
Throughout his career, Doug investigated ways to improve engine performance, ultimately developing a process for more efficient fuel injection. His original work in the field of thermodynamics resulted in the filing of five patents between 1992 and 2000 under the heading "Internal Combustion Engine With Limited Temperature Cycle."
A number of years into his efforts to market his technology, Doug discovered that his patents had been infringed by companies he had been marketing to. He sued for patent infringement. After a long and bitter battle through the courts, Doug won settlements from some of the world's largest automakers. Using the seed money from these settlements, he incorporated a company to further promote and develop his technology and to provide consulting services to the auto industry.
At the same time, Doug resumed his studies and earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Maryland, becoming the oldest graduate of the class of 2013.
In 2015, Doug was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Hot Rod Association Museum. It was presented at a banquet during the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield. The event's program noted, "If nominations were taken for drag racing's ultimate Renaissance man, the versatile, well-rounded Kruse would be at the top of the list." He was all of that and more, much more. From street racing to the salt flats, Doug's career in racing spanned 63 years. He left his mark on the sport, in its many forms, as a designer, builder and promoter. Some of his memorable racing projects have been highlighted by artist John Jodauga.
Doug Kruse's building and engineering skills were not limited to racing. Throughout his career he worked on projects for clients from the aerospace, automotive aftermarket and defense industries. He even designed prototypes for individual inventors, including a baby bassinette and a life guard tower. Some of this work is also represented by artist John Jodauga. For aerospace and defense, Doug built rocket motor parts for Rockwell/Rocketdyne; specially designed billet aluminum computer cases for Boeing 777 quality inspectors; components for M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley fighting vehicle simulators used in military training; and other projects for major companies such as Litton Guidance and Orion International.
Doug's clients in the specialty auto industry included B&M Automotive, Shelby Wheels, Mickey Thompson and Vogue Coach. Doug also helped Bob Reisner build "The Invader", a radical, twin-engined, two-seater that won "Best in Show" at the 1967 and 1968 Oakland Roadster Show, and appeared on the cover of Hot Rod magazine.
To prove the efficiency of his patented combustion technology, Doug built his own dynamometer test facility. While most of the knowledge gained from this work went into technical papers, Doug also demonstrated it in a 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt which he drove to a class record at El Mirage Dry Lake of 135.712 mph.
Doug's final project was the culmination of his work as a designer, engineer and builder: a 25-foot long streamliner with which he intended to break the 11-year old international speed record for diesel-engine, wheel-driven vehicles. Sadly he was unable to complete this project, but it is hoped that the family will be able to do so in his memory.
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