Second generation driver, Charlie Cragan, couldn't help for getting involved in auto racing. His father, John, was part of the Bedford County's first generation of drivers that raced at the South Penn Speedway in the mid fifties. John retired from racing in the mid sixties. It wasn't until Charlie returned from Vietnam that he could seriously think about himself racing. Everybody has to start somewhere.
"Man, that first car we had was junk," Cragan stated. "Once John Fabian and I got hooked up, we started to improve." Those humble beginnings set the tone for a career that took Cragan on a journey of racing both on dirt and asphalt. The pair soon moved up to the Late Model division at Bedford, Jennerstown, Motordrome and Clearfied in the mid seventies.
After teaming up with car owner Jim Cornell, they found victory lane and claimed the 1978 track championships at Clearfield and Jennerstown. The race that is still being talked about was the 1979 National Dirt Racing Association Series race at Motordrome in which Charlie lapped the field and beat the best dirt track Late Model drivers in the country. "They (NDRA drivers) made fun of our McCreary tires," said long time crew member, Rick Zimmerman.
"Those tires worked on our Chamberlain and Frear chassis and their small profile Goodyears didn't," added Zimmerman.
Tough economic times in the early eighties hurt many local teams and by 1982, the Cornell team folded. After that, Cragan drove for the Barry Hoenstine team and others with modest results. Charlie just wanted the chance to drive. This attitude is what led to his finding the way to the Biter Brothers-Doc Scanlon #42. It was at Bedford in 1983 when the Biter's regular driver, Butch Moyer, went on vacation and Charlie got the call to substitute for Moyer. It wasn't long till Cragan replaced Moyer for good and history was about to be made.
Local racing was changing in the mid-eighties. Chassis technology was evolving and to stay competitive, teams were forced to spend endless amounts of money to keep up. Car counts dropped as teams went broke, fans lost interest and tracks started to close. For years dirt tracks were the standard here in Central Pennsylvania. NASCAR saw an opportunity and started a surge to promote their weekly Winston Racing Series program in the north.
By 1985 Clearfield was the first to pave and within a year both Jennerstown and Motordrome followed. Many local teams quickly uncovered their moth balled dirt track race cars and converted them to asphalt. The Biter-Scanlon team did the same and Cragan soon found himself being a "blacktop driver". "I knew right away I could do this," Cragan said as he described his transformation from the dirt to asphalt. The team racked up wins and championships on the pavement circuit which culminated with the 1992, 1993 and 1994 NASCAR Winston Racing Series Northeast Championship.
After that it was up to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series which Cragan qualified for "9 out of 9" events that he entered. With the team financially struggling, Charlie lost his ride to a driver that brought a sponsor to the program. The team never qualified again. Just another testament to Cragan's driving ability.
Charlie's last race was in 2003 at Bedford driving Chuck LaSalle's dirt Late Model. It was full circle that he was at Bedford on the dirt again. Even though never really announcing his retirement, many drivers and fans watched as he got out of the car that night thinking this could be the last time. Since then, Charlie has remained active in numerous racing charity events and autograph sessions. After a fire destroyed fellow driver, Jim Nave's home and shop, Charlie was one of the first to clear his schedule and attend a quickly organized fund raiser for Nave. He started out as a racing fan and is still a racing fan after all these years cheering on the current generation of drivers here in Bedford County.
First win: Bedford Speedway 1978
1978 Clearfield Speedway(dirt) Late Model Champion
1978 Motordrome Speedway(dirt) Late Model Champion
1983 Jennerstown Speedway(dirt) Late Model Champion
1992 Motordrome Speedway(pavement) Late Model Champion
1993 Motordrome Speedway(pavement) Late Model Champion
1993 Jennerstown Speedway(pavement) Late Model Champion
1994 Motordrome Speedway(pavement) Late Model Champion
1994 Jennerstown Speedway(pavement) Late Model Champion
NASCAR Winston Racing Series Northeast Region Champion 1992, 93,
Competed in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Area Auto Racing News award for most Late Model wins in a season
1992-23 wins 1994-25 wins
2002 Inducted into Bedford Speedway Hall of Fame
2006 Inducted into Jennerstown Speedway Hall of Fame
Class of 2009
Bedford County Sports Hall of Fame
Bedford County, Pennsylvania