George Kryssing, Sr., affectionately referred to as “Papa Kook,” passed away at the age of 75 in August 2015, after a long battle with heart disease. His son, George, Jr., who currently is the CEO and president of the company that his dad built from the ground up, reflected on a life well lived.
In his lifetime, the one-time milkman, turned home mechanic and race car driver, built an empire from an original design of stainless steel headers fabricated in his home garage — a timeless blueprint that is still in use today by the company. It now manufactures everything to custom specification at its headquarters in Statesville, North Carolina, where they relocated in 2009 from Bayshore, New York.
As pioneers in the stainless steel header revolution, Kooks is an established innovator in the exhaust industry. The company continues to design, test, and build handmade custom race headers used in everything from musclecars, stock cars, and dragsters, to machines that make more than 3,000 horsepower in every corner of the world.
Born in 1940, George was nicknamed “Cookie” by friends after a fictional character on a popular television program of the era, “Cookie, Lend Me Your Comb,” because he always had a comb in his back pocket ready to pass over his coiffure.
Cookie the character may have been make-believe, but the real man was larger than life. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he served from 1958 to 1959 with a stint in Vietnam. His military career was cut short in jump school when a leg injury earned him an honorary discharge. Army comrades took the liberty of altering his nickname to “Kooks,” and the rest is history.
“Dad was larger than life,” George said. “He was tough as nails and very passionate about the business … I guess you could say he was very colorful. People thought he was like a big lion in the room, he had so much character, and was definitely someone you didn’t forget once you met him.”
On the flip side, George said his dad was calmed by the serenity in his mother. “My mother is truly a saint … very even-keeled. She and my dad were each other’s yin and yang, and they both worked hard at the business.”
George built that first set of headers for his race car in his home garage. It eventually lead to the founding of Kooks Headers in 1962 under three guiding principles: quality, honesty, and performance. They served well as foundations then, and 53 years later they are still hallmarks of tradition and service.
With a grand vision, Papa Kook diversified his interests between 1975-1985, adding exhausts to the stainless steel headers. Other services offered today include mandrel bent tubing services, welding, forming, notching, burning custom flanges, producing specialty collectors, and producing its own line of racing mufflers and tips.
His first car was a 1950 Ford Crestline, but he started racing cars in the late 1950s piloting a red ’58 Buick Skylark. When it didn’t travel as fast down the track as he would have liked, he designed his own set of headers. With great success and more than 200 wins at Islip Raceway (his home track), other racers started ordering custom sets of headers to gain track advantage.
Next up was an orange Oldsmobile 442 packed with a 556ci powerplant. Known as “The Pumpkin Eater,” it consistently raced at 11s. But, that was not quick enough, so he replaced the engine with a crate Chevrolet, did a few modifications, and dropped his elapsed times into the 10s.
Yet another marvel was a ’55 Nomad affectionately called “The Blue Light.” It had a Richard Petty 440 Chrysler drivetrain that George said was faster than The Pumpkin Eater, and blew the doors off competitors. Racers began to clamor for his headers, placing orders to get a better edge.
“Dad just could not leave things in a normal state,” George said. “He was an innovative master who believed in just doing it and not hesitating, and that is how the business was founded. His initial vision was to make a living by producing headers, so he took that theory and started manufacturing them.”
“It’s a natural process to design things, even long, drawn-out processes in my head and they just work,” he said. “I can look at a Dynograph and alter the headers’ specs to make more horsepower. It is uncanny … like dad is guiding me still.”
“When I started racing in 1986, he insisted on building my car out, so naturally it needed a custom set of headers,” George said. “He was invigorated, and I worked alongside him, learning every facet and nuance of blueprinting, fabricating, and installing. The next natural step was to start building headers again.”
A History Of Racing
For more than 53 years, Kooks has directed its efforts in the racing world, and has been instrumental in setting and breaking records, and winning championships in NHRA, IHRA, NMCA, NMRA, NASCAR, SCCA, and NASA. In 2012, Papa Kook was inducted to the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame, followed by the Legion of Honor in 2013. His dream also included one day being inducted into the NHRA and SEMA Halls of Fame.
“Our attention to detail is exemplary,” George said. “Everything our company does is the Kooks OEM way. We are perfectionists and that carries over to all of our OEM products. We really work hard and our hearts are in every piece and we stand behind our products 100 percent.”
George said, the company is never too big for its britches and they learn from trial and error. Because they are manufacturing custom products, all applications are difficult. For example, Mazda racing specs are not the same as a K&N Pro Series, or NASCAR, for which they are the only sanctioned supplier.
“We are ordinary people and it is humbling to have the support and backing of our customers,” George said. “We love what we do and try to help others. It doesn’t matter what you drive, everyone is important to Kooks, from $20 products to $5,000 setups, we have the same attitude of personalized 100 percent focused attention and quality assurance when we fulfill any order. When people buy our products they are getting a piece of our heart and our passion.”
Papa Kook is survived by his loving wife of 57 years, Carol, also known as ”Mama Kook.” The company is still family owned and operated by George, his wife Danielle, grandson Christopher Clark, Jr., several other family members, and more than 80 people on staff.
For more information, visit the website at www.kookscustomheaders.com.