CRAIG LANG - THE KING COBRA LANG COOPER
Craig Lang (Carnation, WA) passed away on June 6, 2008 after a long bout with cancer. He was 70. In the mid ’60s, when Dave MacDonald was reaching his zenith as a team driver for Shelby American, he was also working as a mechanic in the race shop. His three closest friends were Wally Peat, Joe Freitas and Craig Lang. The first two were denizens of the Texan's speed factory in Venice. Freitas was an aspiring Corvette racer who was hoping to snare a Cobra ride. Craig was a successful club racer from Hawaii where he ran a 356 Porsche and then a Lotus 11 Clubman he called the “Squirrel Cage.”
Craig’s part-time crew in the islands included an enthusiastic fan named Al Dowd, who was then running the Coast Guard's motor pool in Honolulu. When Dowd retired from the Coast Guard he moved to California and went to work for Shelby. His mechanical talents were good but he was even better at organization and so became the race team's manager. Once firmly installed, he called Craig and told him about the race team and that he’d be missing the adventure of his life if he didn't come over and join the fun. When the young racer arrived he found instant camaraderie with Peat, MacDonald and Freitas. What set the four apart from most of the team was their loyalty to Chevrolet. At that time most of the hot racing engines in California-built specials were Chevrolet; the best was from Traco engineering, just a few miles from Shelby’s facility. Much to the annoyance of Shelby they’d park their Corvettes together in front of the shop and enjoyed rankling the Texan just because they could. MacDonald’s driving talent was evident from the beginning, so much so that Lang and Freitas put their own ambitions aside to concentrate on helping MacDonald’s career. When the opportunity came to move up from the Cobra roadsters to the 289 V8 powered Cooper-Monacos which the press dubbed the “King Cobras,” Lang offered to back MacDonald in one of the team cars provided it could be painted in his own colors, bright orange. Shelby realized this was a good way to add another car to the team without spending more money, so he agreed. When the car arrived and was being prepared, most of the Shelby crew were more than willing to help this small circle of team-mates because MacDonald was their personal champion within the Texan's Ford-controlled operation.
MacDonald, anxious to move up to more important events was being tempted with an Indy 500 ride by Corvette’s sub-rosa factory team headed by Mickey Thompson. As soon as the first Lang-Cooper was completed, MacDonald was torn by his loyalty to his friends and the Shelby team-ride but eventually agreed to race for Mickey at the Speedway. As a result of testing commitments at Indy with Thompson, Lang agreed to let Shelby take his Lang-Cooper car to the Kent, Washington USRRC for Bob Holbert to drive. Holbert lost it on the rain slick track and demolished the car. Shelby immediately called Cooper in England to purchase a replacement racer for Lang but was told there wasn’t a car available. “But,” said John Cooper, "we do have a new bare chassis I can send if you can build your own body.” Within days the new chassis was air-freighted to LA for Lang and Peat to build their new racer. They chose a talented California racer/fabricator named Don Edmunds to shape the new body. Since I had just completed the drawings for another Shelby racer to be built in Italy with DeTomaso, the drawings for this car were quickly modified to fit the Cooper’s chassis. The design included a radical idea at the time—a moveable rear wing. Edmunds, being an experienced circle track specialist, didn’t believe in the idea and convinced Lang and Peat to build the car as simply as possible to save weight and untested complexity. Just as the car was completed MacDonald had to leave for his ride at Indy.
Having seen the results of tests with Thompson’s radical rear-engined racer, Lang, Peat and Freitas begged MacDonald not to go to Indy, believing the car was dangerous. MacDonald was certain his cat-like reflexes could make the car successful and when he passed seven cars on the first lap it appeared he was on his way. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way and MacDonald was killed in a fiery crash on the second lap. The Lang team was devastated. Without Davey to sort their new car they weren’t sure what to do. Eventually they decided to put another of Shelby’s top racers in the car, Ed Leslie. He did an incredible job of herding the Lang in its first tests, but was wary of its tendency to lift at speed. Without the rear wing the Lang generated so much lift it was scary to drive. With little time to make modifications and still untrusting of the idea of a moveable airfoil, Edmunds and Peat convinced Lang that the easiest solution was to attach a simple rear spoiler. The device worked so well that the front end would lift, picking the front wheels off the ground! This naturally created a bad high-speed understeer. Several combinations of tabs and dive planes were tried at the nose, which improved the handing, but Peat was convinced that everything could be solved with more power...Chevrolet power. Once it was decided to install the Traco engine, Leslie—a Ford driver—reluctantly decided to opt out. Lang tapped another top California racer, Charlie Hayes, to drive. He did as well as he could with the car but it was still aerodynamically unstable. When the Lang crew blew an engine on a trip to the east coast Craig decided that without Davey in the cockpit it just wasn't fun anymore so he sold the car.
Lang moved back to the west coast and began looking for another automotive passion; something he could more closely be involved with. Later, after moving up to Washington, he began to construct a series of show-winning hot rods. Lang’s classically constructed roadsters, coupes and chopped sedans became icons of the hot rod world. All were so tastefully built that wherever they were shown they garnered respect from car enthusiasts of all types. Lang was also a Ferrari enthusiast and owned several, his last being a beautiful black-on-black 430GT. He built a shop/museum behind his home to house the collection during the winter and then he’d choose one to tour the US with his wife Sylvia during the summer. For Shelby era fans, though, it was the Tangerine Lang Cooper that is still remembered as one of the most spectacular cars to emerge from the Texan’s race shop. Craig Lang passed away on June 6th after a long bout with cancer. It was fitting that several hundred friends, including Joe Freitas, gathered at his home a week later to pay their respects. The grounds of his home were filled with one of the finest collections of rare rods and muscle cars ever seen anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. It was a fitting goodbye to a car-guy’s car guy. Craig did it all and will be sadly missed. — Peter Brock
The rebuilt Lang Cooper2. Don Edmunds, Craig Lang & Peter Brock [Craig Lang]
Unloading at Riverside Raceway for its debut race with Ed Leslie driving. [Howard Macken]
Legendary racer John Morton vintage racing the Lang at Monterey. Photo courtesy Peter & Gayle Brock and Vintage MotorSport
Pictured below is driver Charlie Hayes, chief mechanic Wally Peat (kneeling) and car owner Craig Lang (standing).
Photo courtesy of Peter & Gayle Brock and Vintage MotorSport