Gerald “Jerry” Karl was a York countian who played on the national stage – or rather, drove on national tracks. Karl, who raced at the Indianapolis 500 six times, died recently from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Background posts: For scores of post on other celebrities with York County links, see http://www.yorkblog.com/yorktownsquare/york-celebrities/. To see achievers in sports, see http://www.yorkblog.com/yorktownsquare/york-sports/.
Pedestrian A.B. Farquhar survived an accident involving a vehicle, but injuries sustained hastened the agricultural equipment manufacturer’s death.
As I’ve written before, it was the saddest irony that the life of a captain of industry – a man who harnessed machinery to make machinery to harness the earth – was shortened by a machine.
And David E. Small, a noted York railroad car manufacturer in the 1800s, lost an arm after it became entangled in machinery.
Gerald “Jerry” Karl was similarly a York countian of national stature – a driver at a half dozen Indy 500s… .
When he took to the air, he became an accomplished pilot.
But his life was sadly cut short on the slow track – by an automobile accident in Maryland.
A York Daily Record/Sunday News story (2/19/08) tells about his life and death:
Gerald ” Jerry” Karl raced on the world’s biggest stage, but when he stopped driving he remained a presence locally in the sport he loved.
He became a race car owner. And dirt track drivers ended up driving for the Wellsville man who had raced at the Indianapolis 500 six times.
Karl, 66, died Saturday from the injuries sustained in an automobile accident in Baltimore County, Md. He is survived by his wife, Linda.
“He came up through racing. From midgets to sprint cars to Indy cars,” said Dallastown’s Frank Fiore Jr., the chief mechanic for Karl’s car at the 1978 Indianapolis 500. “Nowadays people don’t do that, and I think that’s probably why he was so good. He knew the car and knew how to drive the car.”
Karl was also an experienced pilot. He used to own and operate Karl Aviation at the Capital City Airport. And when former York Mayor Charlie Robertson arrived by helicopter at Silver Spring Speedway in 1994, Karl was the pilot.
“It’s shocking,” said Wayne Harper, the director of public relations at Lincoln Speedway. “I was just looking at pictures of him this weekend. I had no idea.”
Born in Jamaica, N.Y., Karl relocated to York County.
He raced for the first time at Indy in 1973 with the help of Henry “Smokey” Yunick, who also had Pennsylvania ties. Yunick grew up in Bucks County, but moved to Florida where he named his Daytona Beach garage “The Best Damned Garage in Town.”
Yunick’s garage lived up to its name. His drivers included Winston Cup champions, Daytona 500 winners and Indy 500 winners. His drivers included men known just by their last names: Foyt, Andretti, Johnson, Rutherford and Allison. Now at the end of his career, Yunick put Karl in his car.
Karl placed 26th. It would be his worst finish in six starts at the Brickyard. But he kept coming back.
Driving for another team the following year, he placed 19th.
He returned to drive for Yunick in 1975. And Karl enjoyed his
highest finish at the Brickyard — placing 13th. It would be Yunick’s last effort at Indy.
Karl returned to Indy in 1978 driving a car that was owned by the late Frank Fiore Sr. of San Carlos, Calif.
A family-owned team: “We tried to make up for it with hard work,” Fiore said.
Starting 28th, Karl moved through the field.
“During the race he got as high as sixth before we had a manifold break on us,” Fiore said about Karl’s 14th-place finish.
“I always thought he was a better driver than the equipment he was in.”
Karl raced at Indy two more times. He placed 21st in 1980 and 15th in 1981.
But his final two trips to Indy stand out because he designed and constructed the cars at his shop in Wellsville.
Even in death, Karl is keeping his ties to racing.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Injured Drivers Fund of York.
“Everyone knew he loved racing,” Harper said.
See Jerry Karl’s obituary at legacy.com.