Craig Gray – Driver

By Chad Meyer

There’s several names that come to mind as the top drivers of the IMCA Stock Car class at the Kossuth County Speedway in Algona, IA. Go back a bit back in history and two names will immediately be told, Kevin Berte and Greg Hilbert. There’s also the Wickman’s, David and Bruce. More recently some names that will brought up are Derek Green, Kevin Opheim, Chad Palmer, David Smith and his brother Devin.

One driver that should make the list every time this discussion occurs is Mason City’s Craig Gray. Just his Algona accomplishments are stellar, let alone the success he achieved at other area tracks. At Algona, he holds 28 careers wins, ranking him 15th all-time, plus he earned the 1996 and 1997 season championships.

Gray stood in victory lane for nearly all of Algona’s big specials during that time, including both nights of the 1993 Fall Nationals, the ’95 and ’96 Fall Finales, and the 1998 Kossuth County Fair race. Throw in an 8 win season in ’98, the ’97 Napa Winner Series event at Algona plus the 2002 Gene Schattschneider Memorial and you’ve got yourself a heck of a resume.

“I started racing in 1989 in a hobby stock at Mason City and then I raced a limited late model there for a while. I took that hobby (stock) and tried to convert it to a limited late model. I thought I knew it all,” laughed Gray. “But we eventually got better.”

“Then we got Chuck Crimmins to build us a stock car. That’s where I learned everything,” recalls Gray. “He helped us so much and that’s when we really took off.”

Gray was racing stock cars in Mason City on Sunday and Webster City on Saturdays. “We started coming to Algona in ’94 or ’95. Webster [City] rained out and we traveled to Algona. The Rose family (Skip and Rob) were racing there and they wanted me to race there [too]. It was the same distance and it was lots of fun and there were lots of really nice people.”

Eventually his weekend racing rotation became Britt and Algona. “Those two tracks paid more [than Mason City]. The last year [Brayton] had Algona, I made more money winning two nights of the [Fall Nationals] than the winner of the Supernationals did in Boone. I made $1875 and only raced two nights.”

There are several things that Gray remembers from his racing days. “I always felt that I didn’t beat the other drivers, they beat themselves. I loved playing mind games.”

A couple unique games he played including adding a fake nitrous oxide pressure gauge in the cockpit. “I took it apart and set the gauge to read a certain pressure. Others were always looking at that and it eventually drew an inspection from [tech official] Tim Weiland.” A quick look by Weiland showed that it wasn’t actually hooked to anything. But it sure got his competitors thinking.

“I also rigged a micro-switch on the carburetor throttle stop. Every time I was wide-open a red light on the dash would come on. It really messed with a few guys thinking I was going to blow up because the light was on,” laughed Gray. “More than once someone slowed or wouldn’t pass me because they thought I was in trouble.”

There’s plenty of other memories that come to Gray’s mind. “We won the first six-foot trophy they gave out during the [Kossuth County] Fair. We won every special event Algona had one year plus the point title. At the [Algona] banquet the promoter said that I took more money from him than any other driver, including the modifieds that season. Between Algona and Britt that year we made $9275.”

Gray’s peers also recognized the level of success he achieved. “I was voted Driver of the Year at Algona and Britt by the other drivers on multiple occasions. I thought that was pretty good, to get voted on by the other drivers.”

There were couple other memories that stand out, one of which was a ‘one that got away story’. “One year at the Jackson Nationals, we started in the back of the feature. In seven laps we were to sixth place when I got spun out. We started in the back again and made it back to seventh, but then had to pull off since the fuel filter plugged. That car was on a rail. I was told we were going as fast as the mods.”

Gray captured a special Fairmont after two straight days of rain plagued the event. “We hardly ever lifted [during that race]. That was wild, the cushion was two-feet deep. I also remember winning the Minneapolis Auto Auction special at Mason City three times. That was a pretty big deal.”

Gray stepped away from racing shortly after starting his own plumbing business around 2004 and going through back surgery. “My time was

up. I didn’t have the drive to win anymore and my body was getting wore out. It was just time,” he said. “I worked my way to the top of the pile and you don’t want to work your way back down. My heart wasn’t into it anymore.”

Today Gray works in HVAC, maintaining the heating, cooling and plumbing systems of the Mason City School system. “I like having set hours, that’s really nice. I have a Harley that I ride and a 1967 Chevelle that I completely redid the engine, chassis and suspension on that we used to take to shows like the Street Machine Nationals and Good Guys.” Gray also used to spend his winters on the car judging circuit with the International Show Car Association.

Earlier this year, Gray was inducted into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame, located in Algona, IA (