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 at many different tracks.
One way to get him 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 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 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 and 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 Pro Stock three years and the following ‘Super Stock’ classes for those next three years, then Pro Stock again for the next six years. Some of the racers he competed against during those days were: Don Carlton, Ronnie Sox, Harold Denton, Sam Carroll, 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!
I wanted to include this introduction of Linwood since it has even more information about him.
When I was looking through the second issue of Quick Times Racing News (May, 1981) for information on the Heintz Brothers…guess who I also found? On page 8, entitled Craft is ‘The Man’ in Street Rod, there is a photo of Linwood Craft in his Dodge Colt at the IHRA WinterNationals. He not only took the top qualifying spot, he won that race…just another win of many over the years. I asked him if he knew how many races he has won in his long career…he doesn’t. Or if he does, he didn’t want to brag! Linwood is the only Pro Stock racer who has ever gone on into bracket racing. Not only that, he took his former Pro Stock car into the brackets with him! That tells you how much he loves drag racing…you could probably say it has always been his first love.
Linwood has been racing almost his entire life…56 years! Don Garlits has NOTHING on him! He was actually one of the first ever ‘funny car’ racers in drag racing history and although he did not compete with his funny car on a national level, his car was so popular at the time, he had NO lack of bookings for funny car match races. He was number 1 in the south winning match races one of those years! I also asked him how many tracks he’s raced on…he doesn’t know, but he has raced all over the country. He was also one of the first racers to ever use a Lenco transmission. When it came to innovation, he was always interested in doing whatever it took to win a race. Ask him about his Super Stock 468 cubic inch engine which checked out at either a 427 or 428 every time it was ever CC’d!
He started out in Chevys, went to Fords when they were popular then switched to Mopars when he got beat by one! He like them so well, he stuck with them. I asked Reid Whisnant one time why he chose to run a Mopar versus a Chevy and he said, “Hell, anyone can run a Chevy…you can buy parts for Chevys at K-Mart! It takes a special person to know their Mopar well enough to get it to do what they want it to do and be competitive.” I have heard Clyde Hodges say the same thing more than once. They could have been describing Linwood Craft. He seemed to be able to get his Dodges to do things other people couldn’t even get their Chevys to do! He gives a lot of credit to Richard Petty…says he learned a lot sitting around the ‘chew fat’ bench with the Pettys in the evenings.
Linwood is being inducted into the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame because of his influences in drag racing, not just where he lives, but all over the country and especially here in North Carolina. Congratulations, Linwood.