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C.J. Rayburn Was A Visionary That Made Things Happen

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Helm Comm

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 07, 2022 12:37 pm    Post subject: C.J. Rayburn Was A Visionary That Made Things Happen Reply with quote

CARTERSVILLE, GA – In the summer of 2010, Mike Vaughn had three new Chevrolet Performance All-Aluminum Racing Engines, a driver, and an idea. He loaded his engines and the driver in his truck, pulled out of his headquarters in Cartersville, GA, and headed north to see one of his heroes.

“I had an idea and I knew there was one guy that could help me make it happen, so I was headed to Whiteland, IN to see C.J. Rayburn,” Vaughn said. “Rayburn believed in my idea because it was what he all about, and that was helping what he called the ‘Average Joe’ racer.”

At the time, Vaughn had three Chevrolet Performance CT525 Engines with each engine priced at under $10,000 race-ready. For his trip to see Rayburn, he brought with him Dirt Late Model driver Aaron Ridley of Chatsworth, GA. As he always did, Rayburn welcomed them in. He listened to Vaughn’s idea of an affordable Dirt Late Model for the “Average Joe.”

Rayburn liked Vaughn’s idea, and by the end of the week, Rayburn made modifications to three of his “Stronger Than Dirt” chassis, and the CT525 Engines had new homes. Rayburn also had a pair of drivers to join Ridley in the other two cars, his son Christian Rayburn, and his grandson Justin Shaw. Each car was numbered “CT525”, and they were lettered “A,” “B,” and “C.” Each car was also a different color.

Ridley would drive the white A car, with Shaw in the blue B car, and Christian Rayburn in the red C car. The three drivers worked alongside C.J. Rayburn in getting the cars and the engines ready to fit the Rayburn chassis. Working alongside C.J. was a learning experience for any dirt late model mechanic and/or driver.

Just ask Jeff Purvis, who was an inaugural inductee along with Rayburn into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2001. Purvis was preparing to enter his first World 100 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, OH in 1983 when he arrived at the Whiteland, IN Rayburn shops that summer.

“My Dad had made a deal with C.J. Rayburn for me to have one of his cars to run at the World 100 at Eldora Speedway, so I headed up to Indiana to pick up the car,” Purvis said. “When I got there, I introduced myself to C.J. and asked him where my car was at. Without hesitation, C.J. gave me that famous stare, pointed to the pipe rack and said, “Right over there and the World 100 is about a week from now, so you had better get busy.”

Purvis said Rayburn worked right along him in building the car from the ground up. They got the car built, Purvis went to Eldora, and he won the biggest race in all of Dirt Late Model racing at the time in his first try.

“C.J. wasn’t punishing me by having built the car, he was teaching me, and it was the first valuable lesson I learned in racing,” Purvis fondly remembers. “I did learn a thing or two from C.J. Rayburn that week, and I continued to learn from him in the years to come!”

The same was true for Ridley, Shaw and Christian Rayburn. They built the three cars in a week, and they plotted out a series of six Super Late Model races in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. The loaded up the three Rayburn CT525 numbered cars with “R&D Test Car” lettered on the rear quarter panels, and hit the road.

When the six-race mini tour was completed, the Vaughn/Rayburn team won half the races and finished in the top five in all six events. Ridley won two of the races, Shaw had a win, and Christian Rayburn had a second-place finish. The cars were so successful that two of them were sold after the sixth race.

“That may have been the most fun week of racing I’ve ever had,” Vaughn said. “I know C.J. enjoyed it and I knew that by working with him, we would be successful. C.J. was always one of my heroes in racing because if he liked an idea, he was the visionary that could make it happen. I knew C.J. Rayburn for many years before that week in 2010, and I had bought several race cars from him when I owned super late models. I was just one of the Average Joe’s he liked so much.”

Vaughn said Rayburn had supported him in whatever racing endeavor he ever pursued. When Vaughn founded Crate Racin’ USA in 2005, Rayburn was always a part of the Chassis Builders Program for the National Touring Series. It billed itself as America’s Leader In Affordable Racing. Rayburn like the series because it helped the “Average Joe.”

After learning of Rayburn’s passing on January 1, 2022, Vaughn was reflective about the relationship he had with the legendary driver, the chassis builder, and most important of all, his good friend for over 30 years.

“I will miss C.J. Rayburn because he was always straight with me when it came to racing, and to life itself,” Vaughn said. “Just about every time I passed through Whiteland, IN, no matter what time of the day or night it was, Rayburn was like the Red Roof Inn because he always kept the light on for you and I would stop and see him. The visits weren’t short because they would last hours, even days.”

The week Vaughn and Rayburn spent together in the summer of 2010 showed that they were on to something. Vaughn returned to Georgia with the remaining CT525 Engine, reported the successful tour to Chevrolet Performance in Michigan, and they wanted more R&D. Vaughn was ready to provide it, and he called on another National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame Inductee for the job.

Ronnie Johnson of Chattanooga, TN spent another year with the CT525 Engine and found success, winning several big Super Late Model races. Johnson put the engines through its paces for 15 months with out a single failure and little maintenance. Johnson said he never had to take the valve cover off the engine based off the Chevrolet LS3 Production engine. All he had to do was change the oil.

In 2012, Vaughn launched the Chevrolet Performance Super Late Model Series featuring race cars powered by the Chevrolet Performance CT525 that was built and sealed at the factory to prevent any expensive modifications. The series operated under Vaughn’s Crate Racin’ USA umbrella until he sold the sanctioning body in 2019.

“C.J. Rayburn may have been a little eccentric, but he was a visionary in that he built a race car in 1983 that was the foundation of how dirt late models are built today,” Vaughn said. “Whenever the conversation about today’s dirt late models was brought up, Rayburn would always say they were just modified 1983 Rayburns. He was a man that knew racing inside and out, and there will never be another one like him – always helping out the Average Joe.”
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