After manning two .50 caliber machine guns in a heavy, single-engined, Navy TBF torpedo bomber, while the pilot made a dive towards a Nazi U-Boat thousands of feet below in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic shipping lanes, driving an SSB Miata in SCCA races must seem like child’s play! Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Hyler Craft was doing prior to reaching his 20th birthday, and now in his early 80’s, he’s driving race cars in SCCA!
Hyler at CMP in his SSB MiataSince I was old enough to recall, those members of the “Greatest Generation,” who had given their all to save the world from tyranny during the dark days of World War II, have always been my heroes, and Hyler Craft is one of those people. Their toughness and resolve was tempered by the harshness of the “Great Depression” . Therefore, when I heard that Hyler was the chief tech inspector at the SCCA driver’s school that I attended in 2004 at Roebling Road, I was eager to meet him.
Hyler was born the son of a coal miner and a farmer’s daughter on January 4, 1923 in the small Virginia town of Pound. Times were tough and school wasn’t as important as earning a living, so at the tender age of 14, Hyler left home and was able to find work in a restaurant in Washington D.C. However, when the United States became involved in WWII, Hyler moved to Baltimore to work in the shipyards building Liberty Ships for the war effort until his draft notice reached him in November of 1943.
During his time in the shipyard, Hyler had his first taste of racing on the old dirt tracks of the mid-Atlantic states in a midget powered by the old flathead, Ford V-8 60 cubic inch motor. Since he also loved motorcycles, Hyler became a “hot shoe” racing 30 cubic inch Indian motorcycles on the dirt tracks as well, but the war wouldn’t wait.
Though it would take a book to do justice to Hyler Craft’s contributions during World War II, I’ll just tell that he served bravely and honorably in the U.S. Navy’s Torpedo Squadron VT-20. His itinerary during the war included places like the North Atlantic shipping lanes chasing German subs and many island campaigns in the South Pacific including Yap, Anewetok, and others.
Hyler returned home following the war for the first time in October of 1948, and renewed his courtship with his childhood sweetheart, Fay. They were married a year later and went to Washington D.C. for their honeymoon. They moved south to the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, and two weeks later Hyler shipped out only to be gone for the next two years.
Before Hyler retired from active duty in the Navy in 1964, he had been in 27 countries, was on 13 Mediterranean cruises, and had flown 960 hours as a gunner or radar operator in Naval combat aircraft. After such a colorful career in uniform, he finished his education and went back to work as a civilian maintenance engineer for the Navy until 1974.
Despite having raced when he was younger and a short stint or two driving race cars while on leave in Europe, Hyler joined SCCA and went through the driver’s school at Roebling Road in 1972. Since then, he has driven in 129 races, including a couple of trips to the national runoffs. His experience has come in Formula V, GT-5, ITC, and now with an SSB Mazda Miata.
Hyler and Fay Craft are well known in most SCCA circles around the country for their involvement in many facets of SCCA operations from the regional to the national level. They have been especially active in the Buccaneer Region activities and the annual driver’s school at Roebling Road, and are one of the friendliest and most helpful folks you’ll ever meet.
After more than sixty years on this Earth, I have often found that many of those you thought were heroes rarely fit that description in reality. In Hyler Craft’s case, however, I found a man that was far more than what I imagined. He is a true hero who exemplifies all of the wonderful qualities that make this country great as well as a tremendous asset to SCCA racing. I feel honored to call him my friend!