Monday, April 22, 2013

Linwood Craft...One of the Original Heroes of Drag Racing

Linwood Craft of Roanoke, VA…One of the Original Heroes of Drag Racing

By Becky White

How can you write just one page about Linwood Craft? It would take a
hundred pages just to get started on his long, illustrious career in
drag racing. One of the original Pro Stock AND Funny Car racers of the
'60s, he is the only Pro Stock racer (we can find) who stopped racing
Pro Stock and actually turned his Pro Stock car into a bracket car! "I
think I raced it in every bracket class anyone came up with," he said.
"Everywhere I went, they had a different name for brackets at
different tracks and I don't think we missed any of them including Top
Sportsman."

Linwood actually started racing in 1956…in a Chevy…at the young age of
17! There was no such thing as bracket racing then… everything was
class racing until the '70s. You had tech and classification at every
race…even if you raced mom's grocery getter, it had to be
'classified'…meaning it had to be put in a class specified by the NHRA
rule book! He switched over to a '54 Ford for a while, then went back
to a Chevy for a couple years. His next car was one of those
'streamlined' 1960 Ford Starliners…Fords were the BIG deal at that
time…Fred Lorenzen was killing all the other makes on the circle
circuit and everyone was buying Fords. He raced that car for
approximately six years and won a lot of races with it at many
different tracks.

One way to get Linwood to switch car makes was to beat him in his
current car! He was working at T&G Speed Shop when he and his Ford got
outrun by a one of his co-workers racing a 1962 Dodge Dart factory
race car. He sold his Ford and ordered a 1963 Plymouth Ramcharger
factory race car and he was hooked. He raced MOPARS from then on. Even
the dragster he has now is equipped with a Hemi! He won a lot of races
right out of the box with the '63 but a few weeks after he got it,
they started making aluminum front ends for those cars. He ordered one
and put it on the car while hiding it at a friend's garage...to keep
anyone from knowing how much lighter the car was going to be!

He also owned a '68 Hemi Dodge Dart factory race car and had a blast
with both those cars. Racers everywhere dreaded to see him pulling
into the track on race day and still do! During those 'off' years of
Pro Stock, he raced a 1974 Duster in Super Stock…also equipped with a
Hemi and to his credit, he was the first racer in our area to ever use
a Lenco transmission! It helped make the Duster a winner since all you
had to was shift. He said they left the clutch in the car and he had
to remember to put his left foot up under the clutch to remind him he
did NOT have to smash it down to change gears! If there ever was a
bounty put on him, it would have been at Roanoke drag strip in 1963 or
maybe even several years later at Piedmont Dragway when he had his '74
Duster and won 21 races in a row!

He also had a '64 Mustang 'funny car' during that time…when Funny Car
was just 'being born' so Don Garlits has NOTHING on Linwood! He had a
good time racing it, too, but that one was just for fun. There were a
couple other guys around that area who had 'funny cars' and they were
the big thing when it came to the tracks drawing in spectators…which
they did a lot of back then. Best two of three match races was
something nearly every track operator did back then on a regular basis
for the fans. He ran it off and on for two years and it was 'flying'
at that time running 8.60s at 181 mph in a quarter mile! Of course it,
too, had a Hemi power plant…purchased from Richard Petty! Linwood was
number 1 in the South in match racing in either '63 or '64…he won more
match races than anyone during that time.

Clyde Curtis from Hudson, NC would come up and match race against him
most any time they called him… Linwood and Clyde were good friends and
had a good time at those match races. Hank Hankins in Virginia was
another of his match race competitors. Linwood described this racing
as, "Just having fun!" This only lasted for two years, then Linwood
got serious about his Pro Stock racing. This was during the heyday of
P/S racing, when they ran Pro Stock for several years then some idiots
at NHRA…who knew NOTHING of cars and engines…started changing rules
and made it impossible to even have a Pro Stock class!

NHRA fell out of favor with the car makers because of these dumb rules
decisions and the factory guys just would not sponsor any races OR
help anyone run in that class although they did continue research,
development and testing. Someone asked Linwood if he ever 'cheated' in
Super Stock. His answer, "Cheating was the name of the game! Everyone
cheated. It was more fun to cheat, beat your competition…who was also
cheating… and see how long you could get away with it! I never knew
anyone who didn't cheat…that was as much a part of the competition as
anything else! I ran a 468 cubic inch engine which checked out 427-428
during all the years I ran Super Stock in the Pro Stock cars!"

There was NO Pro Stock racing for three years until NHRA woke up and
changed the rules back…mainly because they were losing SO much money
because of losing the factory sponsorships! Linwood raced in P/S for
three years and the following 'Super Stock' classes for those next
three years, then P/S again for the next six years. Some of the racers
he competed against during those days were: Don Carlton, Ronnie Sox,
Harold Denton, Lee Edwards, Don Nicholson, Billy Stepp, Bob Glidden,
Bill Jenkins, Wayne Gapp and Jack Roush, Peewee Wallace, Malcolm
Durham as well as Dick Landy and all the Ramchargers drivers. Linwood
has raced all over the country.

I wrote about Linwood buying an engine from Richard Petty and he told
me learned a LOT from Richard. He went to the Pettys many, many
evenings and sat around in the 'chew fat' seats listening to them talk
about racing and engines, especially Chrysler engines and he always
had questions to ask. They were always forthcoming with answers to any
question he had. He gives them a lot of credit for the knowledge he
learned which helped him become successful racing Mopars.

Chrysler Corp. never did 'officially' sponsor Linwood but they helped
him out in lots of ways… mostly with parts…which they were VERY
generous in handing out! He said he came home from a race one time
with so many parts loaded in the trailer, on the truck and in the
truck, he barely had room to drive! He had actually gone to Chrysler
Corp. to pick up a car for someone else when he saw a Dodge Colt
setting high up on a shelf. He tried to buy it but they told him it
was being scrapped! He told Clyde Hodges right then he wanted one of
those cars if he could ever get one.

After Don Carlton passed away in 1977, Clyde was at Piedmont Dragway
and he told a friend of Linwood's to tell him there was something at
his shop he wanted. As soon as Linwood got that message, he called and
Clyde told him what he had…it was that very same Colt Chrysler Corp.
had intended to junk. It was rumored Don Carlton had bought it for
$1.00!!! Linwood went to Lenoir, NC as quickly as he could get away.
When he went into Clyde's garage, Clyde said, "Go look in the back
corner." Clyde made him a price and asked him if he wanted it! Of
course he said, "YES," and the rest is pretty much history. Linwood
took the Colt back to Roanoke that very day! If you knew what he paid
for it, you would probably faint…especially if you could learn the
value of it today! He paid Clyde $6,000!

It IS the only one of three Dodge Colts Don Carlton owned still in
existence today…two were actually built specifically for Don even
though this one was not! Don did race this car until Chrysler built
the others. Linwood said, "It is STILL in just as good shape today as
it was when I bought it 35 years ago!" He said, "I was on the way back
home with that car when I heard on the radio Elvis had passed away so
there is no forgetting the date I bought it! He bracket raced the Colt
for nine years before selling it to Durwood Edwards. Durwood raced it
a year, sold it back to Linwood and got a dragster.

Several years later, Linwood sold the car to Mike Belcher who also
raced it for many years. Mike passed away a few years ago, but the car
is still in his family. Before Mike's wife also passed away, Linwood
offered her a LOT of money for the car in hopes of getting it back,
but she wanted to hang onto it! Mike and Linwood raced together and
were best friends for over 30 years until Mike passed away. Linwood
really misses Mike, the racing and the traveling they did together.
And they had a LOT of fun!

Durwood Edwards had a heart attack and couldn't race for a while, so
he sold his dragster to Linwood who LOVED it! He said, "That is ONE
heck of a ride!" He also said he enjoyed it better than a full bodied
car but it was really hard to get used to because he could not hear
the engine. He is from the 'old school' and depended on listening to
what was going on in the engine to know if something was wrong or even
starting to go wrong! Linwood says he has absolutely NO idea how many
races he has won in 56 years of drag racing and if he did know, he
isn't the kind of guy who would brag about it! He also can't tell us
how many tracks he has raced on, but he's raced all over the United
States! He was runner up at the IHRA Bracket Finals for three years in
a row in the Colt.

He won't brag but he WILL tell you about racing from Virginia to Texas
and back through Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina and back
into Virginia in nine days and he has so many of those stories, it
would take a lot more pages than I can put here to write about those
escapades! About the hundreds of wins Linwood has had in his long and
illustrious racing career, he says, "It was just luck more than
anything else. I did have good reflexes, but I was mostly just lucky!"
Linwood had heart surgery the first of December, 2012 but plans on
coming back strong during 2013. Congratulations to Linwood Craft on
his induction into the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame!

3 comments:

Brian Hankins said...

Good article how do contact Becky White about this article ? Trying to find out if Linwood still lives in Roanoke or if he still has his shop .

Bob Hart said...

Linwood is still working at his shop in Vinton VA.-- His phone # is 540-981-0675

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