Race car drivers often are stuck with some pretty way out nick names, Jimmy “the Newport Nightmare” Owens or Vic “The Thrill “ Hill. Then there are some that have a way of sticking with you, like “The Dalton Bad Boy” Craig Reece. Racers are truly a unique breed of people, who have a different view of life, and have a passion for things most people don’t understand. Only people who have walked in a racers shoe’s can fully understand. But often times the nicknames these unique individuals get, are so wrong, once you get to know them in real life. An that is how it was with “The Dalton Bad Boy”. He was my friend.
Craig Reece was bigger than life to some, a superb wheel man and one hell of a salesman. He had a knack of talking to you like you had been friends for years, when actually he had only met you 10 minutes before.
My first time meeting Craig was a few years ago, at North Georgia Speedway, out by the pit gate, I was standing there taking pictures of cars coming in, and this guy walks up and says “ hey, ain’t you the dr”? I said yeah I was, he asked me “don’t you do writing too”? I said yeah I do. I was thinking this guy looks familiar to me but I can’t think of his name. But he stands there for a minute then looks at me and in a cocky way says “ well we need to talk, cause you need to write about me, my name is Craig Reece……..”
Little did I realize what a life changing experience was ahead of me.
Craig was born February 22 1980 to long time racer Larry Reece and his wife Annette. Larry was no stranger to the world of racing winning at race tracks across the south for years, so Craig pretty much grew up in racing.
And in 1996 stepped into the seat of his dad’s car. After a few mishaps and mistakes Larry decided that it was time to get Craig some real training, so he sent Craig to work with Dirt racing legend Larry Moore for a summer and the wealth of knowledge served him well.
Craig’s understanding of a race car and how to make it work to his advantage was a huge part of his success, His connections he developed over the years led to opportunities that came in handy later in his career.
But his real talent was selling himself. Craig knew he had to sell himself to get to where he wanted to be in the racing world.
Craig was known as a driver whom a younger driver could talk to, he often seen lots of himself in these up and coming drivers and done all he could to help them, whether it was with advice on driving or seeking out sponsors.
But Craig was way more than just a race car driver, he was a guy who loved his family, loved to spend time with his three boys.
An he had the gift of gab as they used to call it. Couple years ago Craig and one of his sponsors Cody McCarver decided to team up to take a family that wasn’t as fortunate as other to make sure they had a good Christmas, Craig gave countless hours of his own time chasing sponsors for this. Talking to companies and people, getting more and more people on board, all to give it away so a family could have a good Christmas, it was the true spirit of giving. His heart was as big as the whole outdoors and the friends whom he trusted often got to see a side of the “Dalton Bad Boy” few ever did.
Craig even liked laughing at himself at times, once on the way to Tri-county Speedway, Craig was driving, and even though Syd and I told him it was the wrong turn, he turned anyway, only to find the road was a dead end, requiring us to back alll the way back to the road, Craig laughed and took all the teasing in stride.
I watched Craig struggle with his own demons. I received lots of late night phone calls, when he just needed someone to talk to, the stress of being “Craig Reece” was at times to much for him and yes he faltered, as we all do at one time or another. But I also seen the change in Craig after he witnessed what God had done for his mentor and friend Cody McCarver, he once questioned if what Cody had was sincere or if it was just to sell music. Then one day the phone rang, I answered it to hear Craig tell me “it’s real Mitch Walker, it’s really real!” Craig had given his life to Christ the night before, and he was feeling the love that he had seen in others for the first time. The joy I could hear in his voice let me know that God was truly in control. There were lots of times after that that when life bore down on him, he went to the Lord in prayer.
I once watched him as he stood up in church an gave his testimony using the same shining persona that made him a star in racing, to make God the star in his life. Once at a “Customer Appreciation Day” for his sponsor National Title Pawn, as we got ready to roll the car out, I looked up to see him praying, so I joined him. After a few minutes we stood up and Craig looked at me an smiled that cocky grin “you know Doc for a long time meeting all these kids scared me, I didn’t want to let them down, but now God helps me, I know with God working through me, I won’t mess up” and, he was right, Craig always noticed the kids who were shy, the ones who stood back and watched, rather than joined in, and he felt it was his job to include those very kids. Every chance he got, thats what he did, taking that one child, who was reserved and quiet, standing in the back ground, and Craig would find them, pick them up and it was like that child was the only kid in the entire world. Time after time I watched him do this, and each time, you could see in Craig’s face that in some way, he connected with that child.
Craig was always thinking of others around him first, often putting friends before himself. Watching him do things for others would make you smile, because you truly seen that his actions were not driven by other motives, but he done things for people because he truly cared. It would be hard to count the number of lives he touched both in racing and in his personal life, but the numbers are big.
I had the honor of shooting lots of pictures for Craig over the years,some he wanted and some, well when he was just being himself. When he won the Crate Class season title at Dixie Speedway he wanted to do pictures for his sponsors so he called me, an he got suited up standing in front of his sponsors logo on the trailer, I took picture after picture getting that one perfect shot that he wanted. When we done the Redneck Friends Do Christmas he didn’t want to be in the pictures, to him, it was truly about the kids, and watching them. That’s just how he was….
Craig had a racing career that stood racing on it ear in some ways, he found ways to get just a little more out of his car than others did. He surrounded himself with a crew that he trusted, an all of them had faith in Craig as well. Craig also joined forces with Marshall Green, who had started Capital Race Cars, Marshall’s father James Green had worked with Craig’s dad, Larry Reece in his days of racing. There were two apples that definitely didn’t fall far from the tree. James and Marshall both helped guide Craig, both in setup on the cars an driving style. James and Marshall were also quick to kick him in the butt when he stepped out of line, truly a racing family.
Speaking of family, everything Craig done in racing, he done so with the focus on making his father proud, to show his dad, that he wanted to be just like him. And I believe he did. He loved his family, his Mom Annette, his dad Larry and his 3 boys, those boys were his life, and the pride he had in them was like a fire.
It has been a few months since Craig left us, an not a day goes by he don’t cross my mind. I think back over the past few months, and after doing a couple radio shows dedicate him, posting pictures never seen before of him on social media, I look at some of the memories others had of Craig, comments like “one helluva wheel man” and “God I loved watching him race to the front” or “ Loved watching him” day in and day out, I see just how many lives he touched in his short time here on earth and I try to take comfort in knowing I will see him again one day. I often go back to the Facebook message he sent me 2 days before he passed, it read “ Mitch Walker I aint seen you in a week but I just wanted you to know I love you brother” and I can still hear his voice on the phone, the night he passed when he called me at 1 am, asking me if I wanted to come hang out with him in the ER, if I had only known then, what I know now…..
But so often we lose people we care about, and wonder why, well, all I can figure is God has started Crate racing in heaven, and the Ford team needed the best driver out there. Craig, was one of a kind, it didn’t matter what time you called on him, or what you wanted, Craig was always there for his friends, and I am proud he felt that way about me.
Godspeed Craig, I will miss the late night phone calls, the trips, and the racing, but most of all, i will miss the times we had together. #74ever