Dick Kraft was born in Anaheim, California in 1921. At age 14 he got his first car, a roadster. After that followed a 1929 Ford Model A with Kelseys and a Winfield head. Money to buy the Model A were earned by working on the family ranches. As Dick felt he wasn't getting anywhere with the old four-banger, he bought a 1932 Ford roadster with side mounts and 18-inch wheels for $200. Between 1935 and 1939, while attending Anaheim High School, Dick formed a club named the Plutocrats along with Doug Hartelt, Chuck Potvin, Kenny Lindley and the Palm brothers. Every Saturday night, the Plutocrats would go street-racing in order to hold onto the number-one status they had. At the time in Orange County,, before you were 18, you had to go to traffic school on Saturdays in Santa Ana if you got tickets. In an interview with Rod & Custom Magazine, Dick recalled that he went to traffic school from the time he was 16 til he was 18 without a Saturday morning off. When Dick wasn't street racing or tearing down the dry lakes, he could be found at the beach. Dick could bench-press 300-plus pounds back in the days, and liked to hang out at the beach chasing girls and street-fight. According to the same interview, he really went to the beach to street race as well, but when there wasn't anyone to race, they kind of got bored and went out into the parking lot to street fight.
Dick credits his high school shop teacher for encouraging him to attend night school to learn a trade and calm down. Dick learned to work with machine tools and equipment, building manifolds and headers, later going on to Fullerton Junior College. The Plutocrats club was disbanded after the graduation in 1940, and Dick and his friends became members of the Hollywood Lancers, later known as just the Lancers, instead.
When the war broke out, Dick decided to join the Merchant Marines. While Dick was away, he had his friend Jack McGrath build him an engine. He wanted to have the engine ready when he got home, so he could go racing instead of wasting time putting it together. Dick recalled once he got some hours off from the ship, he went straight to Anaheim where Jack McGrath was waiting for him with his bare-bone 1932 Ford and a rope to tow the roadster to a midnight street race. The roadster had no starter, no teeth on the flywheel, no generator and only one motorcycle light. The roadster had to be shove to start, and they towed it in a rope all the way to the Piccadilly Drive-In in West Los Angeles. With the roadster, Dick beat every guy there that night, including Jack and Manuel Ayulothey. Jack and Manuel both had 1932 Ford roadsters, but Dick's where much lighter.
After the war ended, Dick decided to stay in Merchant Martine a little longer. On a leave in 1946, Dick, Jack McGrath and some friends built what looked like a cross between a kayak and a soap box derby racer. He had the engine that Jack had built, and wanted a car to install it in. He had two or three days before he had to be back on the ship, and started the build by building a frame out of 2x2 box tubing. A gas welder was used to weld the tubing together. They didn't have any springs, so the front and rear end were welded to the axle. A Coca-Cola sign was stolen to make a body for the creation. They didn't have any rivets, so they screwed the halves together with stove bolts. By Saturday the race car was finished, and they took it to El Mirage on Sunday. The car ran 135 mph. After hanging with the guys and racing the lakes, Dick found out that he had had enough of the Marine life, and signed off in 1947.
In the early 1950s, Dick began drag racing. In 1950, he showed up at Santa Ana with a contraption that consisted of four wheels, a motor and a seat. Named "The Bug", the only piece of sheet metal on the car was the cowl. The single-seater was registered as a roadster, but it became known as the worlds first dragster. The Bug started out as a weed-sprayer on Dicks parents orange groves. When his parents retired the vehicle, Dick used the 1927 Ford Model T frame to build a race car. Before becoming The Bug, the old weed sprayer ran a number of times at Santa Ana with both a roadster body and a coupe body. Dick's two main interests at the time was racing and surfing, and he worked for his brother on his orange grove maintaing the farms equipment. At the same time, he worked for George Barris at Barris Kustoms to pay off the debt incurred for the Kraft Specials chrome. His specialty was chassis work and engines.
Dick Kraft's Cars
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