If there were a board game created to map Ray Kracik’s life, his playing piece would most certainly be a 1930 Model A Ford—one with snappy, red-and-black striped upholstery.
“Ha!” laughs Kracik. “That car has certainly been with me for many of the big moments so far.”
From the time a college-aged Kracik bought his Model A for $35 from an old woman in Cherryville, Kansas in 1960, and completely restored it, the car and Kracik have been pretty much inseparable.
He and his wife Kathy had their first date in the car, traveled to their wedding with it, and trundled each of their four children to their baptisms in its back seat. When they grew up, each of those children asked Kracik if the car could likewise figure in their weddings. Last year Kracik trailered the beloved vehicle to Arkansas so it could be used for his granddaughter Sara’s nup- tials. And come June 22, it will join more than 100 restored vintage vehicles on the streets of Lake Bluff for the 7th Annual Lake Bluff History Museum Auto Show, an event that Kracik helped start.
“I love restoring old cars,” says Kracik, who moved to Lake Bluff in 1964, the same year he married and started teaching drivers education and coaching football at Lake Forest High School. “Restoring and owning vintage cars is a very relaxing and fun hobby. You kind of have to slow down a little bit to do it right. Finding the original parts, restoring the finish and the interior, putting it all together as it was when it came off the assembly line. It takes time. I think that’s part of the appeal of the hobby.”
Kracik’s interest in cars, and skill in both football, and craftsmanship showed up early, during his childhood on Chicago’s far south side.
“I was born and raised in a little community called West Pullman,” says Kracik, one of five children (two sisters and one brother) to parents who both had very large families. “My mother came from a family of 13, and my father, eight,” he says.
Attending a Catholic grade school that didn’t have a gym, Kracik and his brother Andrew spent a lot of time at the park district playing in the Junior Bears football league. That led to football at the Chicago Vocational School where Kracik played with famous teammate Dick Butkus.
“Those were good times,” says Kracik. “I was always a quarter- back and my brother a lineman.”
But more than football, trade school gave Kracik training in woodworking, automotive tech, and upholstery— all skills that he would eventually use either professionally or in his lifelong hobby refurbishing cars.
During his sophomore year as an education major at Parsons College in southeast Kansas, Kracik decided he had to get his first car.
“I asked my roommate Jim Jones if he knew anyone who had a car I could afford. Turns out Jim came from this little town called Cherryville and had a neighbor there who had a 1930 Model A Ford. She bought that car the year it was made and had stopped driving it in the ’50s, leaving it parked in her backyard where the chickens had made a home of it.”
A few visits to Cherryville finally yielded the Model A. “Jim and I put a battery in it and it started right up,” Kracik recalls. “But inside there was nothing but raw springs, no in-terior or floorboard, so I had my feet on the rails as I drove it back to school,” he laughs.
“There were chicken feathers flying out of the windows all the way up that country road.” Back at college, roommate Jones, an industrial tech major, took the car to shop class and redid the engine.
“Then I took it to a trim shop and had a new top put on it and had the cracked glass replaced,” Kracik continues.
Back in South Side Chicago that summer, Kracik put his upholstery skills to use, finishing the interior with pleat-and-rolled, red-and- black striped seats and headliner.
“It’s a very durable upholstery technique,” he concludes. “And has held up all this time.”
Kracik’s experience with the Model A led him up the path to acquiring and refurbishing more cars.
“I’ve just always loved cars,” he says,
“Especially sports cars—Mustangs and Corvettes—and so did my two boys.”
The boys finally convinced Kracik to get a little two-seater 1973 Mercedes 450 SL. And then in 1986, a former student sold him a red and white 1960 Corvette that needed to be restored.
“I spent $10,000 on that Corvette—a lot more than the $35 I spent for the Model A,” he laughs. “But refurbishing the cor- vette was a real pleasure, too.”
In the years that followed, more cars joined the Kracik fleet: a 1929 Model A, a 1967 427 Corvette, a 2005 Chevy SSR, a 1972 Camaro, a 2012 Camaro convertible, a 2003 PT Cruiser, and a 1996 S10 Chevy Truck. With the help of several of his former LFHS football players who had become carpenters, Kracik expanded his original two-car garage to a six-car garage to house the majority of the cars.
Kracik also taken his love for car restoration to the Lake Bluff community, working with a team of like-minded car enthusiasts to restore a 1931 International Harvester ice truck for the Lake Bluff History Museum.
For a glimpse of that beauty, along with dozens of other vintage restored cars, “Just come to the Lake Bluff History Museum Auto Show (lakebluffhistory.org) on June 22.
I’ll be there,” Kracik promises. “And so will my Model A.”