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Neil ‘Soapy’ Castles, longtime racer and stuntman, dies at 87




Neil “Soapy” Castles, who had a two-decade career in NASCAR while also being a Hollywood stuntman, died Thursday. He was 87.

Castles made 498 starts in what is now called the NASCAR Cup Series, achieving 51 top-five finishes without a win in a career stretching from 1957-1976. The former driver’s death was first reported by veteran journalist Deb Williams and later confirmed Friday by McMahan’s Funeral Home, which handles memorial services in Rutherfordton, NC.

RELATED: Neil Castles’ Career Stats

Castles was nicknamed “Soapy” by the legendary Buddy Shuman, who gave him a set of wheels for a soapbox derby racer at the age of 9. He stayed close to Shuman, clearing out tools in his shop, and eventually tinkering with his cars during his teens.

Castles won twice in the former NASCAR Grand National East Series, claiming that short-lived circuit’s championship in 1972. After years of trying, he won his first win that spring at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, bringing out Elmo Langley in a photo. finish.

“We’ve been racing close together for a long time, but you always get that urge to win,” Castles told Greenville (SC) News. “The car ran as good as ever. There was no problem. I knew I could get under him. I knew I could. Winning… that’s the name of the game.”

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Castles often competed in cars he owned, and he also made entries for stock car luminaries such as Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough for a short time. He was also credited with wins in a pair of 25 lap qualifying races, one at Darlington in 1967 and another at Rockingham two years later.

“Racing, like anything else, has its ups and downs,” he told The Charlotte News in 1969. “I’ve been in it for so long that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. As long as I can keep my wife and kids feed, I’ll stay in the sport.”

Castles said he got his big break in the film industry in the 1950s, around the time his racing career was taking off. He and a few friends had signed up as extras while filming at Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough, NC. When the stuntman from California was delayed, Castles said, “Let me break that car so we can go home,” he told the director. “I can tear that thing up for you and tomorrow we can all go home.”

The director drew up a flimsy contract that evening. “I went out the next morning and flipped the car,” Castles said.

Several movie roles followed, some credited and some not. Among them were racing themed movies such as Six Pack, Greased Lightning, The Last American Hero and Speedway, the latter starring Elvis Presley.

“I doubled up for Elvis and I pretty much wrecked five or six cars,” Castles told the Orlando Sentinel in 1973, adding that the dual career turned out to be lucrative. “I’ve had a very good year. Between NASCAR and the Screen Actors’ Guild, it’s the best I’ve ever dealt with. I like racing and doing film work when I have the time.”

Memorial services are scheduled for Wednesday at Mountain Creek Baptist Church in Rutherfordton. Family visits are scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, with funeral services at noon at the church.




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