Crocky Wright dies

Ernest Schlausky, A.K.A. "Crocky" Wright, one of midget car racing's most respected historians and a widely beloved icon within the sport, passed away in a nursing home on the west side of Indianapolis, Ind. on Wednesday, December 23. He was just three weeks short of his 91st birthday.

A passionate devotee of midget car racing for more than three quarters of a century, the New Jersey-born Crocky probably did more that any other individual to chronicle the history of midget racing on the East Coast. A prolific writer, even into his late 70s, he wrote literally hundreds upon hundreds of articles for a variety of weekly racing papers over a period of several decades (typically, merely in return for credentials at the pit gate) in addition to a number of books. He authored an ambitious six-volume history of East Coast midgets; a stats-filled hard-cover history of the fabulous short-lived late-1930s high-banked Nutley (New Jersey) Velodrome; a 1961 tribute to the life and career of the then recently fatally injured Johnny Thomson (for which Crocky turned all of the proceeds over to Thomson's widow); a similar effort shortly thereafter praising injured driver Rex Easton (turning all of the proceeds over to Easton's family), in addition to a variety of midget racing yearbooks, biographies on other drivers, a history of East Coast three-quarter midget racing, some fiction work, and even his own fascinating and sometimes amusingly irreverent memoirs, which nevertheless contained some surprisingly haunting and tender passages.

Crocky, who was honorably discharged after four years with the 762nd Tank Battalion in the Pacific theater during WWII, aspired to be a driver himself, dabbling with it off and on over a period of more than 20 years, mostly with the American Racing Drivers Club. He never achieved much success, but he could still say that, yes, he did indeed race against Len Duncan, Dutch Schaefer, Ernie McCoy and even a very young Mario Andretti.

When Crocky first became enamored of midget racing in the late 1930s, he was actually an even bigger devotee of "night" motorcycle speedway racing on cinder tracks. His hero was Emerson "Crocky" Rawding, an East Coast standout who briefly raced in England before having to leave his equipment behind in the rush to jump on a States-bound ship when war was declared in September, 1939. Not only did Ernie Schlausky assume his hero's nickname, but he also copied the black and white checkered paint job of Rawding's helmet, turning it into a trademark of his own.

While motorcycle speedway was never successful in returning after WWII, Crocky did take part in some of the futile attempts to revive it. He had better luck as a stunt man, performing as a member of a troupe formed by another leading speedway rider, "Putt" Mossman. Under Mossman's guidance, Crocky perfected the stunt of crashing a motorcycle through flaming boards, something he introduced to a whole new audience at the Indianapolis Speedrome at age 70, and again at what was then Indianapolis Raceway Park at age 77. Crocky was very proud that some of his accomplishments were documented along with those of Evel Knievel in an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Crocky championed the cause of numerous drivers over the years, most famously Tony Stewart, who Crocky discovered as a 16-year-old three-quarter midget driver in Rushville, Ind. in 1987. He soon became Stewart's volunteer "PR" person, a fact the eventual multi-USAC, IRL and NASCAR champion never forgot. When Crocky himself was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in a 2005 ceremony at Sun Prairie, Wisc., who should walk into the room just as the induction was taking place but Stewart himself, having gone out of his way to fly a considerable distance from a NASCAR engagement for the purpose of surprising his longtime friend.

White there will be no services or viewing, a celebration of life will take place at a date to be determined later at the Latimore Valley Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania where Crocky will be interred at a burial plot located within yards of the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing.

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