Wednesday, June 11, 2014

'Racer' Roy Morris remembers Ray Crawford 

Ray Crawford's official Speedway photo
courtesy of the IUPUI University Library
Center for Digital Scholarship
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection

One of the names on  Roy Morris's list of great drivers that he saw race is that of Ray Crawford, who was a P-38 fighter ace in the World War 2 African theater and jet fighter plane test pilot. Crawford raced midgets following World War 2,  won the stock car class of the Mexican Road Race in 1954, and competed in the Indianapolis '500' three times, All his accomplishments came in addition to his day time job running his family's Southern California supermarkets. 

Ray befriended a young race fan, Roy Morris, who shares with us his memories of Ray Crawford:

“I knew Ray fairly well back when he first started midget racing. I was born in 1933 and saw my first midget race at the Los Angeles Coliseum in October of 1945 and have been a race fan and part time participant ever since. 

Around 1948, I was hitchhiking my way to a midget race at Culver City Stadium. I was on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Western Avenue in Los Angeles when a brand new red Ford convertible with white leather upholstery stopped to pick me up. It was Ray Crawford! He took me all the way to the track at Culver City and then drove me home after the race. He did this many times back in those days and even called my house to make arrangements.

I remember how Ray used to qualify at Gilmore when he first started driving. The outer crash wall at Gilmore was more of a rounded rectangle while the track was itself an oval shape with short straight-aways. Ray would follow the crash wall line while pitching the car sideways violently as he entered and exited the turns. He was almost too brave for that time and place! 

Usually, Ray wore brown flying coveralls over his business clothes (usually a suit and tie) when he raced. I taped his wrists at Gilmore one night to keep out the dust and dirt. I remember when he finished the Gilmore Grand Prix near the front and I was proud of him (Ray finished fifth in the 150-lap Grand Prix in 1949).”  

One thing I will never forget about Ray was something he said to me as we were driving back to my house from a race in Culver City around 1950. Ray said to me that he would not be doing any racing for a while and I asked why. 

He said very nonchalantly, "We're building a new store in El Monte and I need to me there. I can't afford to get hurt right now." It did not dawn on me at first, but Ray was acknowledging the risks he took while driving a race car- to me, this was the ultimate in confronting the risks!”

I lost track of Ray after he went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Years later, I went to his store (Crawford’s Village Market) in El Monte to look him up. Outside in the parking lot, I found an old Indy car painted a cream color with red highlights, had no engine or transmission with Edgar Elder's name listed on the side as Chief Mechanic. 

I went into the store and asked for Ray, but he was out of town that day.  The last time I saw Ray was at Ascot in 1988 - he was dressed to the "nines" as usual in sport coat and slacks. 

I took my collection of pictures to one of the last Gilmore reunions at the Gilmore Adobe. Johnny Boyd was there and wanted to see them. Boyd was engrossed looking at them when he came across the pictures of Ray, he laughed and said Ray was not much of a driver but was brave as could be.

In all the time I spent with Ray, he never once mentioned his WW II flying experiences. It was only recently that I began to understand his contribution to the war effort. I now know that he flew P-38's in Europe and shot down at least five German aircraft, qualifying him as an Ace. 

After the war, Ray was assigned as one of the test pilots on the first jet fighter, the Lockheed P-80. He and Richard Bong, one of the most successful fighter pilots of WW II, alternated test flights out of Burbank in the P-80. 

One day, Ray had a mechanical problem before takeoff and returned to the hanger. After the problem was corrected, it was Bong's turn. He took off but immediately ran into trouble, crashed and was killed. Ray never mentioned any of this while he was with me.”

Thanks for sharing your memories of a true American hero, Roy 

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