Dale Creasy is hobbling around after having replacement surgery for both knees.
“Not a smart move to do ’em both at once,” the NHRA Funny Car fan favorite said. “It’s getting better. It was quite a bit more than I expected it to be. So I’m walking as much as I can and trying to get everything back to normal — well, back to where it doesn’t hurt to walk.”
Time was, following a catastrophic driveline failure in his race car during an 2008 IHRA event at Edmonton, Alberta, that he had to overcome a crushed and compound fracture in his left leg and multiple fractures in his right foot. The recuperation time for that was months. So this setback for Creasy is mild, compared to that.
But what put the 64-year-old racer from Beecher, Ill., again at a crossroads in his career was a mid-October high-speed collision with competitor Dave Richards in the opening qualifying session of the NHRA’s Texas FallNationals, near Dallas. Although neither driver suffered injuries worse than bruising, both cars were wrecked beyond repair and both racers were done for the season. Neither had a back-up car, and Creasy told Competition Plus, “We don’t have any money. All of our stuff is broken. Right now, all I can do is cry.”
Creasy blamed himself for the crash at first and said, “It was all my fault. I went across the centerline. Maybe it’s time to retire.” But he put aside his angst and once again proved that this racer nicknamed “Peanut” (because as kid he tagged along to the racetrack with Funny Car pioneer dad Dale Creasy Sr.) is one tough nut to crack.
It’s not in me to give up. I don’t think people understand the commitment that I’ve put into this for the last 30 or 40 years that it’s a hundred percent. – Dale Creasy Jr.
But he isn’t quitting, isn’t retiring.
“The older I get, the more I think about that, because you don’t have a lot of time left as far as driving a race car. So I figure after a certain amount of time, it’s probably time, just age-wise. But I figure I got another five years in me,” Creasy said. “And I’m not saying that I’m too old to do what I’m doing physically. It’s if you’re not excited about what you’re doing, it might be time to find something else. I talk about it and the hair stands up on my arms.”
“It’s not in me to give up,” he said. “I don’t think people understand the commitment that I’ve put into this for the last 30 or 40 years that it’s a hundred percent. And I know that racing against the big guys is probably … I don’t know how to put it, but it’s one of those things where you can’t outrun ’em, but I don’t know how to quit. I don’t know how to give up.”
Had he not been committed to the sport, he said, he “wouldn’t have won the IHRA championships (in 2006 and 2007). We wouldn’t still be here. During my career, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, but we’re still here,” he says.
“I’ve had people say, ‘You’re lucky to get to do what you do.’ And I am. There aren’t 50 people in the world that get to drive a big-show Funny Car. If you add it all up, there’s probably not even 50 people that have a big-show license that can compete in the NHRA. So this is it. This is the top of the line, and I think I can do it. So we’re going to keep trying,” Creasy said.
“But this didn’t start yesterday. I’ve been building this inventory and building this stuff up for the last 25, 30 years, and we’re finally to a point where we’re pretty competitive,” he said. “We used to be two-tenths away from the field. Now we’re only a tenth or less away. So we’re getting there. I just had to keep working and working at what I’m doing to make it happen. And maybe it doesn’t happen as fast as you want it to. But I didn’t want my career to end like that.”
Besides, Creasy said, “This is all I have.”
That literally is true.
He said, “I don’t do anything else. That’s what I do. I’ve been a racer. I don’t know what I’d do.”
He doesn’t have a “job,” per se, not a regimented one.
“I work for my sponsor, Tek Pak, Inc., rebuilding machines for them. They bring ’em to the same building where my car is, and they gave me a spot in one of their buildings to store my race car and all my stuff. So I do work for them. But as far as nine to five, no,” he said.
“I don’t go out to eat. I don’t go shopping. I don’t go to bars. I go work on my race car, and I come home and think about what I can do the next day to make it better.”
Some might call that an addiction.
“I think it’s a challenge,” Creasy said. “You shouldn’t be in a class with John Force, Matt Hagan and those guys. But I don’t look at it that way. I look at it that we’re going to do what we want to do and let the chips fall where they may. We’re doing well enough in the last couple of years where it’s starting to run good. And I can’t give up, can’t give up on it.”
I don’t go out to eat. I don’t go shopping. I don’t go to bars. I go work on my race car. – – Dale Creasy Jr.
The challenge, he said, is that “the cars are so much faster nowadays that when they react badly, they react badly fast. I just wasn’t keeping up with it. I just had to get my head in the right place, because it was after that accident I was quitting. I was just done. I’m 64 years old, do I want to do this again?”
He had a close call in June 2022, at Norwalk, Ohio, while racing Ron Capps in the first round of eliminations at the NHRA’s Summit Equipment Nationals.
“That was different than what happened in Dallas,” Creasy says. In that case at Norwalk, their cars lost traction at about the same time, and Creasy’s dropped three cylinders on the left side and just turned him sideways across the center line. “So there was nothing to that,” he says. Indeed, their cars never touched, although it would have been hard to slip a piece of paper between them.
“But every time something happens that I critique myself,” Creasy says. He concludes that “I can drive the race car. I’ve proven that over the last 25 years.” However, he says, “But you have to stay on top of it, because the cars are so much faster now. We put stuff on the car to monitor me, because that’s what I want to see. I want to see if there was something I could do to correct it or fix it. I don’t want to do anything to hurt me or anybody else.
“I just questioned me — not the car, not anything else — after what happened in Dallas. What could I have done to fix that?” he says. “And we’ve watched all the videos, and it didn’t appear that I did anything wrong. It just didn’t react as fast as I should have, in my mind. But I can’t give up on that, because I’ll never forget about it if we quit now.”
Terry Haddock, who earned the 2008 IHRA championship after Creasy dropped out because of the Edmonton incident and also made the switch to the NHRA, always quips that he’s “not smart enough to quit.” But it’s a matter of money and having all the right resources.
Creasy said, “I never complain about that, because when you get into this level of the sport, it just costs a lot of money. I do it because I love doing it and I got a great group of guys behind me, and I love driving my race car. So during this rehab time and after the accident at Dallas, I seriously consider just saying, that’s enough, right? But I’m going to build into one more car and see what happens.”
The day after the Dallas accident, 16-time Funny Car champion John Force came to Creasy and said, “I told my guys to do whatever they can to get you back on the racetrack.”
So, Creasy says, “We have a chassis, and we picked up a body last week, and I had saved enough money, because we were going to get our front half and put new tin and tanks upgraded. So I had saved enough money for that, but this has pretty much doubled on anything that I thought I was going to spend. I’m just going to do what I can do and get going when I can.”
Force supplied the chassis, and Creasy purchased the brand-new body from Don Schumacher Racing. So when he returns to action, Creasy should be in pretty good shape with equipment.
“On paper we have a good car. We have good parts. We’ve upgraded our parts in the last three or four years to where we’re maybe a half a step behind everybody as far as newness. But the car’s running good. It’s just the driver’s just not been doing his job lately,” he says.
I love that [Creasy] family. That’s the heart and soul of what NHRA is all about. – Ron Capps
Creasy stands by his crew.
“The least amount of time with my crew is 10 years. They’ve been with me at least that long,” he said. “That’s what keeps it going, because without a crew behind you that you could trust, it just makes the mountains harder to climb.”
Brother Steve is the rock. “Since I separated from my dad and got my own car, he has been my crew chief forever,” Dale Creasy says.
His nephew, Steve’s son, Josh Creasy, is working on the car again after a bout with cancer. It has been in remission, Dale Creasy says, “as of, I don’t know, beginning of last year. It’s gone. As of right now, everything is moving in the right direction.” So Josh Creasy has been tending to the left side cylinder head. “But he does a lot more than that. He mixes fuel. He does whatever needs to be done,” the owner-driver says. “He’s my main guy. He’s with me at every race. He shows up a day early, and we do all the work, and then the guys come in and they do the rest of it.
“Jimmy Vance, he’s the bottom-end guy, but he does blowers. He pretty much can do anything on the car, so he’s like in the bullpen. If somebody runs in with a problem, he can come out and help him. And then we’ve got John “Kiwi” Kwiecien. He’s the clutch assistant. He works with ‘Scuba Steve’ Annunziata, our clutch guy. When he started working with us, that’s what they were calling him, so that’s what we still call him. And then we have Ken Meier and Ken Meier Jr. Ken Meier does the body, and Ken Meier Jr. Is the right-side cylinder head guy. Ron Spillman comes to probably 80 percent of the races. He’s another body guy. Kelly Hood and Dennis Jameson are our in-house fabricators. And I’ve got my mom, of course: Ruth Lord. She’s at every race. She’s the one that keeps us all in line,” Creasy says.
“We do everything together. We win together. We live together. We’re friends. I want everybody to know that it’s not me. It’s not just me,” he says. “I always said, if I have to watch you do a job, then I might as well do it,” he adds. “And it’s not that I don’t trust them, but If I don’t a hundred percent believe in what they’re doing, then they can’t be there. I am going to get in that car and trust that what you did was right, and my guys, no question about ’em.”
Today, Dale Creasy really has no questions about himself, either. He has shaken off the doubts.
As contradictory or counterproductive as it might sound, Creasy’s on-track rivals are happy he plans to come back in 2024. Even after nearly tangling with him at Norwalk, Capps said, “I love that family. That’s the heart and soul of what NHRA is all about.”
Creasy says he’s experienced his share of disappointment “more times than I care to admit,” but he’s ready for next season.
“I’ve been at the shop and I’m driving home and I’m thinking, ‘Why are you doing this? What are you beating yourself up for?’ And then about halfway home I’ll go, ‘Oh, I know how to fix that.’ You’ve just got to keep moving,” he said.
“There’s times when you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Creasy said. “But then I start the car, and I know why.”