Story By: BUFFY SWANSON / NORTHEAST DIRT MODIFIED HALL OF FAME – WEEDSPORT, NY – One of Pennsylvania’s finest for more than 40 years, Craig Von Dohren of Oley has been selected as a 2022 inductee into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame.
Driver inductions and special award ceremonies are scheduled for Wednesday, July 20 at the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York. Plans call for pre- and post-program festivities, hosted by the speedway, with formal ceremonies at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public.
Born to a farming family in rural Berks County, a 15-minute ride from the famous Reading Fairgrounds, Craig and his older brother Barry grew up at the race track, got their feet wet in Go-Karts in the 1970s.
Craig was still wet behind the ears—only 16—when he followed Barry into the “big” cars. The high school kid was a winner in his rookie season, taking a small-block Mod feature at Big Diamond Raceway on August 1, 1980 in his family-owned number 1C, a few weeks shy of his 17th birthday.
“I don’t know what we won that first night at Diamond—maybe $800. And it all went back into the pot—in the kitty, to my dad, to get to the next race or whatever,” Von Dohren said.
In the next two and a half years, Craig reeled off another 14 wins in the family car, at Grandview and East Windsor in addition to Diamond. And then, he got the nod to replace brother Barry in the high-profile Glenn Hyneman ride.
Von Dohren had never imagined himself racing for a living—but that became the reality.
“When I started driving for Glenn, there were percentages involved,” he said of the owner/driver winnings split. “And I thought, wow, look at this! I’m just a dumb farm kid. I don’t know nothing…I don’t need anything…”
All of a sudden, he was making decent money—driving a race car. “I bought my one grandmother a lawnmower; bought my other grandmother a dishwasher. They needed something, and I had money! Hell, I didn’t need money—I was 19, I was living at home,” said Craig, who came to the realization, “I can make it doing this! We had the farm back then, so I was flexible to go racing.”
And once he had figured out the percentages, “with the next ride, I told ’em, ‘Hey, this is what I got paid before. I gotta get paid that again.’ And it just kept going from there.”
With three local tracks banding together to form the Pennsy Tri-Track circuit, the time was right to make a livelihood racing, without having to hit the road. “Back in the day, we had one car that we raced three nights a week, an hour from home. Same rules, same tires, same mufflers, same whatever,” Von Dohren pointed out. “They weren’t paying purses like they’re paying today, but we could build a car for $7,500. Now, it’s $30,000! So comparing money spent vs. money won, the Tri-Track was one of the best deals going—not just for me, because it was close, but for a lot of people.”
Although he was a homebody, Craig did show well outside the Keystone State. “We did go to East Windsor with the family car and won there. We’d go to Delaware and win. Won at two tracks in Florida,” he listed, in addition to Hagerstown in Maryland, and Port Royal, out in Sprint Car Country. He had success over the years at New Jersey’s Bridgeport Speedway, as well.
“Of course, Diamond and Grandview were my comfort zone—but why would we leave?” he emphasized. “The money was good! But when the money was better we did go to Susky—in 1998, I literally drove right past Grandview to go to Susquehanna because they were paying $3,000 to win. And we won 10 races there that year.”
It is all a numbers game for Von Dohren—and the totals are impressive. Recording his first victory at Big Diamond in 1980, before his 17th birthday, and his most recent at Grandview on May 21st of this year, Von Dohren has strung together an incredible streak of 43 consecutive winning seasons—second only to Hall of Fame driver Alan Johnson in dirt Modified racing history.
What does it take to pull off a win every single year, in five decades? “I don’t know. I just never thought about it,” Craig shrugged. “The end of the year would come, and we’d just worry about selling our stuff and getting better stuff for the next year. It just kinda snowballed! And 40 years later—here we are…
“You have good people around you,” he said of his assets. “I’ve always said I feel like I can walk right down the center of the pits—never had to hide from anybody. I never ripped anybody off, I never screwed somebody over. I was always comfortable in what I did.”
And he did a lot. CVD is a 12-time track champion at Grandview Speedway, where he tops the all-time win list. Von Dohren also sits at the head of the class at Big Diamond, where he holds four small-block Modified titles, and was the 1995 champ and Lebanon Valley 100 winner at the defunct Penn National Speedway during the Tri-Track Series days.
And he’s done well in the big area races, especially south of the PA border, taking seven small-block and six big-block crowns in the year-end Delaware State Championship events; and scoring three times—one Mod and two small-block—in Hagerstown’s Octoberfest. Back home at Grandview, CVD won the big Freedom 76 race five times and is a nine-time winner of the Forrest Rogers Memorial. He is a four-timer in Big Diamond’s Coalcracker. All told, Von Dohren currently has 351 career wins to his credit (as of this writing, as they’re stacking up quickly this season) at 13 tracks in five states.
And in 2021, he finished third in the NASCAR Weekly Series national point standings and was named Northeast Regional champion, collecting a total $28,500 in point monies for his efforts.
“That was really a nice surprise,” Craig noted. “I don’t really pay attention but my crew chief, Jason Bashore, told me, ‘We kinda have a shot at this.’ And then I maybe started thinking about it. I don’t really points race. I probably would have won more championships if I’d been a points racer! I’m a go-out-and-win-every-week kinda guy—if the points come, great.
“But the last two or three point races at Grandview—we were definitely doing the math, to try to get there. We got over $28,000 for winning the championship. At one track!”
The fact that Von Dohren was able to pull it off, racing only a single track under NASCAR sanction, is remarkable. The odds are decidedly against you. “You go down to Charlotte, to the NASCAR awards banquet, and the guys in the top spots—many of ’em race three and four tracks. And they’re taking their best finishes from all of them,” Craig explained. “It is pretty impressive what Grandview does, getting as high as we do with only one night of racing.”
At 58, Von Dohren is the senior statesman of the tough Pennsy small-block scene—but time is starting to creep up on him.
“I got hurt a couple years ago, injured my back. I got shoved into some yuke tires at Big Diamond. Hit ’em and jumped up in the air, came down on all four tires. And my lower vertebrae got pinched and collapsed a little bit. I just kinda nursed through it, took some Tylenol, just fought through it for a couple weeks,” Craig recounted. A wreck in Grandview’s 76er further aggravated the back injury and by the time he got to a big race at Bridgeport, he knew he was done. “I was in tremendous pain in the middle of a heat race, kept going because I was in a qualified spot, and I literally could not get out of the car after that race. I was in bad shape. Had to take the rest of the year off.”
Refusing surgery, Von Dohren got himself better on his own—resting, eating healthier, working out at the gym to strengthen his back. “I didn’t hear many good things about back surgery. So I figured I’d try to do it on my own, get in shape, and if I can’t—well, then it’s a career.”
Craig’s career is far from over. Since suffering the back injury two years ago, he’s coming off a championship 2021 season at Grandview and already scored five wins this spring.
The triumvirate: Von Dohren and his chief rivals, Duane Howard and Jeff Strunk, have dominated Pennsy Mod racing for the last…well, it seems like forever.
That stranglehold on victory lane may not ease anytime soon—but that day is looming closer.
“My wife says the new guys are coming! She’s trying to help me realize that, so I don’t beat myself up!” Von Dohren laughed. “I don’t know: I see these young guys coming—but how long are they gonna stay?
“It’s a different world right now,” he observed. “I never saw a beach until I was 19 or 20. We didn’t go! These kids are living stuff that I never even saw until I was in my 20s. I wonder how many of them are going to stick it out, racing.”
It’s all about going the distance. And Von Dohren’s longevity in the game is a big part of his legacy.
“When I found out I was getting in the Hall of Fame, I thought—what did I ever do? It’s what I always did! I never thought about it. Is it cool that I’ve got 100 wins at Diamond? Well, yeah. But I don’t brag about it,” he humbly downplayed the accomplishment. “I probably have more second-place finishes than I have wins behind guys like Kenny Brightbill and Doug Hoffman and Billy Pauch.”