Oklahoma Short Track Giant Ray Crawford, 79

Ray Crawford. (Richard Bales photo)

TULSA, Okla. — Ray Crawford, a legend of short-track racing in Oklahoma and the grandfather of late midget and micro star Donnie Ray Crawford, died Wednesday.

He was 79.

Considered one of the top talents in Sooner State history, Ray Crawford began racing in the late 1950s, building his legacy quickly at the three-eighths-mile Tulsa (Okla.) Fairgrounds.

After taking a trifecta of modified (then called 6-banger) titles from 1966-’68, Crawford advanced into the supermodified division in 1969 and promptly won rookie-of-the-year honors.

Five years of supermodified racing followed before Crawford landed an opportunity to drive the James Plunkett No. 64, heading to the NCRA supermodified trail to race in Kansas and Texas, as well as at the new Fairgrounds Speedway in Tulsa after it was expanded to a five-eighths-mile dirt track.

Perhaps Crawford’s best ride came along in 1976, when he was tabbed to drive for Harold Hillenburg, the father of Tulsa’s Andy Hillenburg, who later became a star on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series trail.

Wheeling Hillenburg’s famed black-and-gold No. 55, Crawford became renowned throughout the Great Plains, sparking a fierce rivalry with Emmett Hahn (who later founded the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa) and finishing in the top five in NCRA points for five straight years from 1976 to 1980.

The 1978 campaign resulted in an NCRA championship for Crawford, while he also took a pair of Tulsa Fairgrounds track titles over Hahn in ’76 and ’80.

Crawford’s career continued into the early 1980s, as the supermodifieds evolved into dirt champ cars (today the USAC Silver Crown Series), and he won another Tulsa track title in 1981 before beginning to mentor his son Donnie in a Hillenburg team car in 1982.

Perhaps most notably, the last decade of Crawford’s racing career saw him serve the city of Tulsa as a firefighter in addition to his exploits behind the wheel, leading to the nickname “The Racing Firefighter” around his usual Oklahoma haunts.

After his retirement, Ray Crawford mentored his grandson — Donnie Ray Crawford — in a fast-rising career that was tragically cut short when Donnie Ray was shot and killed during a domestic disturbance in January of 2012.

Ray Crawford is survived by his wife Glenda; children Robin (David) Majors, Donnie (Jodie) Crawford, and Kelly (John) Kiska; his niece Pam (Randy) Winsworth; seven grandchildren; 10 great grandchildren, and additional family members and close friends.

He was preceded in death by his mother Bonnie and father Charles; brothers Skeeter and Corky; sister Charlotte; and grandson Donnie Ray.

In lieu of flowers, fans and friends are asked to consider donating to the Donnie Ray Crawford Legacy Foundation. More information on the foundation can be found at www.DonnieRayCrawford.com.