The Lucas Oil Chili Bowl participants unloaded their trailers on Saturday and Sunday at the Tulsa Fairgrounds as they remembered their beloved local racer Donnie Ray Crawford III.
Crawford was killed a year ago by his mentally challenged grandfather, Daniel Garcia, who had a criminal history. Garcia shot Crawford in his parent’s Wagoner County home on Saturday, January 14th, 2012, the same day he was supposed to race in the finals at the Chili Bowl.
“The Chili Bowl, this is the place where he was last at,” said 17-year-old Harli White. “This was his last race he was in. It’s hitting everybody hard, not only me and my family and but of course the Crawfords and everyone he knew, which was everyone here.”
Crawford and White had a special brother-sister relationship. He was 24-years-old when he was shot and killed and White was 16. In 2008, White’s mini sprint car caught fire during a race, the I44 Speedway, in Oklahoma City. Crawford pulled her out of the flames when no one else could and saved her life. She suffered severe burns on half of her body.
“He was my angel, a God sent angel,” said White. “He still is watching over me and looking out for me. I struggled to come here and race because I did want to be here because it is too hard. It is the biggest race of the year, but I have to put Donnie Ray in the back of my mind a little bit so I can focus on racing, which is hard to do. I just have to tell myself that Donnie Ray would want me to do my best. If he was here right now, he’d be like ‘you can’t be distracted.’”
“That whole situation was just unbelievable,” said Crawford’s racing cars owner Jon Kantor with Hard 8 cars company. “He wasn’t my son, but it was like losing one of your own children.”
Kantor has both of Donnie’s midget cars in the Chili Bowl. Both cars are decorated with Crawford’s family racing number, 55. The Crawfords are famously known in the racing community across the nation.
Kantor is also selling Donnie Ray Crawford III t-shirts and hoodies to raise money for the Crawford’s “Racers Scholarship Fund.” More than $100,000 has been raised so far. The t-shirts cost between $20 and $30. There is a limited edition collection of crimson red (The University of Oklahoma colors for Crawford) selling for $30 at 5:55 on Tuesday and Wednesday night at the Chili Bowl.
“It’s been tough, thinking about him all the time, as you see on the cars we are remembering Donnie with the 55 logo on everything and the t-shirts,” said Kantor.
Emmett Hahn is a Chili Bowl promoter and has been with the Chili Bowl since it started in 1987. He raced against the Crawford family in the 1960s and created such a huge rivalry between them that large crowds would gather to watch back then.
“I raced with Crawford and it would draw 10,000 people on a Saturday night!” said Hahn.
Their rivalry was friendly and last year one of Hahn's grandsons, Blake Hahn raced with Crawford as his teammate with the Hard 8 cars. This week Hahn is racing one of Crawford’s cars.
“I see Ray (Crawford’s other grandfather) and talk to Ray quite a bit and it hurts, it still hurts quite a bit,” said Hahn. “I get sick to my stomach when I think about it. I told Ray and them, and Donnie (Crawford’s father) as long as I have something to do with the Chili Bowl this main event will be 55 laps every year. It wasn’t just here in Tulsa, people all over the United States knew Donnie Ray.”
Last year on the Saturday night that Crawford was killed the Chili Bowl promoters honored Crawford with a video and a 55 lap memorial race. It was tradition to always do a 50 lap race on the final day, but Hahn made it 55 and it happened again this year.