Rayburn Shows Plenty of Drive on Track at Saugus : Motor sports: Sportsman and Street Stock veteran from Simi Valley keeps a fast pace with his two-car barrage.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The catch to Craig Rayburn is exactly that-- trying to catch up with him.

If he's not racing car No. 60 in Sportsman division events on a Saturday night at Saugus Speedway, he's driving car No. 18 in Street Stock competition.

Back and forth, like a perpetual-motion machine. One moment it's a fast-heat race in Sportsman, the next it's a figure-eight fast-heat race in Street Stock. If you're lucky, you might pin him down in the pits.

Let's face it. There's no catching up with Rayburn, 27, of Simi Valley, the rarest of breeds at Saugus Speedway--a driver who races both Street Stock and Sportsman division cars all summer long.

Call him tireless, call him crazy, call him the "Ironman"--as track announcer Virgil Kilpatrick has dubbed him--but certainly call him talented. Rayburn is the only driver at the speedway who consistently races in both divisions.

He currently stands third in the Sportsman points standings (206) and fifth in the Street Stock standings (105 points). A dual championship is not out of the realm of possibility.

That is, of course, if he doesn't collapse from exhaustion first.

But Rayburn will have no such talk. In fact, he not only enjoys his double-duty, he sees it as necessary to fight off boredom.

"If we run just one car a night," Rayburn said, "then we just wind up sitting around a lot."

To be sure, there is no sitting around on nights when both the Sportsman and Street Stock divisions run, last Saturday being a prime example. From 7 p.m. on, Rayburn raced in the Sportsman trophy dash, the Sportsman fast-heat race, the Street Stock oval fast-heat race, the Street Stock figure-eight fast-heat race, the Street Stock oval main event, the Sportsman main event and the Street Stock figure-eight main event--110 laps around the one-third-mile oval.

And don't forget the all-day qualifying for both cars.

How does he do it?

"I drink a lot of soda," he said with a smile. "About six or eight a night."

Rayburn, who sports thinning blond hair, a ready smile and an athletic build, is not one to mince words. With so much driving to do on Saturday nights, who has time to talk?

Besides, Rayburn will leave any discussion to his entourage, a group of family and friends who hang out by the two cars in the pits and readily offer their perspective on Rayburn's pursuit.

Before fast-heat races get under way on a Saturday, Rayburn is surrounded by the familiar crew: his mother; his father, Ron, who built his son's first Street Stock car in 1983 and still works on his son's Sportsman car; his sister Rita; her husband Dave Pulaski, who owns the No. 60 Sportsman car; Rayburn's girlfriend Natalie, who faithfully walks Rayburn from the pits to the next waiting car; former Dallas Cowboys strong safety Jack Sanders, who owns the No. 18 Street Stock car; and suspension specialist Steve Challgren, whose brother Dan drove the same car in the early '80s.

On this night, the group is discussing Craig's entry into the dual world of Street Stock and Sportsman driving. It seems that he started in Street Stocks in 1983, then moved to Sportsman in 1988. A few weeks into the 1988 Sportsman season, a Street Stock driver named Craig Meyers, who worked with Rayburn, broke his hand and needed somebody to drive his car.

Rayburn volunteered, not batting an eye.

As his father said: "He's just energetic."

Added Rita: "We get used to the activity (of two cars). If you drive just one car, you drive it and it sits there, you drive it, then it sits there."

The Rayburn blood, it seems, is high octane.

The group has cheered on Rayburn for two years as he competes in both divisions. In 1988, he finished fifth in the Sportsman points standings and seventh in Street Stock. In 1989, he finished sixth in Sportsman and fourth in Street Stock.

And this year?

"It would be nice to do well in both divisions," Rayburn said with characteristic simplicity.

Midway through this summer at Saugus, Rayburn is well on his way to making a mark in both divisions. He says that he dreams of racing at the next highest level--the NASCAR Southwest Tour, perhaps--but knows that such a move requires money and sponsorship.

"We all are (looking for sponsors)," he said. "It'd be nice if I could get a good ride."

Until then, Rayburn will work his double-time routine. He will pull into the pits in his No. 18 car, climb out, grab one of the many sodas he quaffs and walk immediately to the waiting No. 60 car, primed to take the track. The field already will be lined up, except for a gaping hole left for Rayburn's car.

With sweat saturating his blue racing suit, he will walk past the other drivers with whom he has just raced, going back for more.

"Sometimes they'll yell out, 'I don't know how you do it, Craig,' " Rayburn said.

He doesn't answer. He just smiles. And keeps on doing it.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°