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Book Review – Ray Crawford – Speed Merchant

The book, Ray Crawford – Speed Merchant is written by Andrew Layton who is an author of three previous books on military topics and is himself an Air Force veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a life-long motorsports enthusiast. Layton holds degrees in English and Political Science. Photo courtesy of the author, Andrew Layton

The book, Ray Crawford – Speed Merchant is written by Andrew Layton who is an author of three previous books on military topics and is himself an Air Force veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a life-long motorsports enthusiast. Layton holds degrees in English and Political Science. Photo courtesy of the author, Andrew Layton

Ray Crawford – Speed Merchant: A California Grocer’s Love Affair with Risk, From P-38 Lightnings to the Indianapolis 500

By Steve Zautke

From the Lockheed archive comes this awesome shot of Ray during his stint as a flight test control officer for the company in late 1944. He would eventually become the third military test pilot to certify on the P-80 Shooting Star, America's first operational jet fighter. Photo courtesy of the author, Andrew Layton

From the Lockheed archive comes this awesome shot of Ray during his stint as a flight test control officer for the company in late 1944. He would eventually become the third military test pilot to certify on the P-80 Shooting Star, America’s first operational jet fighter. Photo courtesy of the author, Andrew Layton

They were known as the greatest generation. They survived The Great Depression, liberated Europe and defeated the militarized Empire of Japan. Ray Crawford was a member of that group. From humble beginnings, he fought the Axis in the air over North Africa and Italy, later raised War Bonds with some of the most famous movie stars of the day. He was one of the first to pilot a jet-powered fighter for the United States Army Air Force. That story in itself is worthy of a book, but his story doesn’t end there. As did many after the war, Ray needed an outlet. A chance meeting on the street with fellow classmate, Sam Hanks, Ray embarked on another chapter, as race car driver.

We’ve read biographies of drivers who went out and won races immediately and impressed their fellow competitors. Ray was not one of these drivers. Although a successful fighter pilot, Ray struggled at first, crashing in his first heat race. “Crawford was about to be lapped, looked back to gauge the closing distance. When he looked ahead again, he was going straight towards the wall. Crawford swerved and spun, slapping the fence – fortunately without much damage. Ray crawled from his car, he looked to see Sam Hanks standing in the infield slapping his knee and laughing hardily at Crawford’s abrupt exit from the race.”

The book covers Crawford’s career through West Coast midget racing which saw great race cars drivers like, Hanks, Vukovich, Ward, Parsons and Bryan. Crawford shocked the racing world when he won the Carrera Pan-American race in his fire engine red Lincoln. Viewed as an outsider at Indianapolis, Crawford was asked to come back ‘next year’ as a driver. However, owning his his car, a top-notch Offenhauser-powered Kurtis roadster, Crawford hired former winner Bill Holland to pilot his car.

Eventually Crawford made the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and author, Andrew Layton does an excellent job of providing insight to Crawford, his drive and those he touched.

Crawford poses in front of the Crawford’s Grocery store with his Pan American race winning Lincoln.  Photo courtesy of the author, Andrew Layton

Crawford poses in front of the Crawford’s Grocery store with his Pan American race winning Lincoln. Photo courtesy of the author, Andrew Layton

One of the most versatile racing drivers of the 1950s, he competed passionately in sports cars, stock cars, midgets and unlimited hydroplanes. The book describes how Crawford was labeled a dabbling amateur by auto racing’s rough-and-tumble “in” crowd. The reason: his family’s supermarket empire through which his dreams of speed were financed. Controversial, yet charming and affable on the racetrack, few of Crawford’s competitors ever knew that his unbelievable daring was motivated by an equally audacious career as a decorated P-38 combat ace and test pilot that had turned sour. Drawing on family recollections, interviews with friends and colleagues, as well as Crawford’s own, un-published wartime letters, Ray Crawford – Speed Merchant tells the story of one of the most amazing personal journeys you’ve never heard of. The book is formatted like the many earlier Dick Wallen books and includes over 250 images from aviation and auto racing history from Mr. Wallen’s collection. Also included is a personal foreword by Alice Hanks, wife of 1957 Indy 500 winner Sam Hanks.

This outstanding hardcover is a great example of a book on a driver that may not be a household name, but what an incredible life he led.

Product Details
Library Binding: 206 pages
Publisher: Revolution Press, LLC; 1st edition (2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 151360323X
ISBN-13: 978-1513603230

Available on Amazon.com and updates and signing on the book’s Facebook page.

Ray Crawford – Speed Merchant: A California Grocer’s Love Affair with Risk, From P-38 Lightnings to the Indianapolis 500



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Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee, WI native, was raised in the sport of auto racing. His father, Bill, was a movie photographer that shot racing footage at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1960’s and 1970’s Steve’s first professional job in racing was as an Emergency Medical Technician at tracks such as Angell Park and Hales Corners Speedway (1988-1991). Steve has also worked for the Milwaukee Mile as videographer, in media relations and historian (1993-2011). Steve also has worked as a reporter for Racing Information Systems (RIS) and has written features for ‘Vintage Oval Racing’ and ‘Victory Lane’ magazines. Most recently, Steve has written a book on Road America for Arcadia Publishing. ( http://www.amazon.com/Road-America-Nascar-Library-Collection/dp/1467111457 ) Steve co-hosts “Sparky’s Final Inspection” a motorsports-based radio show with hosts, Steve “Sparky” Fifer and “NASCAR Girl” Summer Santana on Sports Radio 1250AM in Milwaukee and is also available on the internet at www.Sportradio1250.com. A member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Committee, Steve follows all types of racing from the dirt tracks to Formula One.