Neil Castles, Elvis Presley’s ‘Speedway’ Stuntman and NASCAR Driver, Dead at 88

by Craig Garrett

Neil Castles, a NASCAR driver who also worked as a stuntman, transportation coordinator, and actor, has died at the age of 88. The news of his passing was first reported by veteran NASCAR journalist Deb Williams on Twitter. Castles was famously a stuntman for Elvis Presley in the 1968 film Speedway.

Castles had southern roots, hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina. He earned his moniker “Soapy” after his first experience in racing via a soapbox derby. He elaborated on the nickname in a 2006 interview with Sue George. “[I got the nickname] when I was running that soap box derby and running those soap box cars. That name stuck with me from then on,” Neil Castles said. “In fact, when I grew up and got fooling around racing, and got older, everyone teased me about running the soap box derby, and they just kind of picked up on the nickname. About everybody had some kind of nickname that hung on, whether they wanted it or not.”

At the age of 17, Neil Castles began assisting in the preparation of a vehicle that would be driven by Buddy Shuman in the 1951 Southern 500. In June 1957, he would make his Cup debut at Columbia Speedway, completing 51 laps before engine failure forced him out.

Neil Castles makes the transition from NASCAR to Hollywood

Neil Castles would end up having a prolific career in Cup. From 1957 to 1976, he made a total of 498 appearances. However, Castles famously never won a single race. He finished second four times in his career. He scored 51 top fives, and 178 top 10s, and finished in the top five in points in 1969 and 1970. The greatest achievement of Castles in NASCAR was his title triumph in the short-lived Grand National East Series in 1972. This was a lesser category established to allow tracks that had been removed from the Cup Series schedule owing to Winston replacing the series title sponsor.

Along with his racing exploits, Castles also became an accomplished stunt driver. The majority of his cinematic appearances were for films about racing made in the 1960s and 1970s. Neil Castles’ film credits included 1977’s Greased Lightning starring Richard Pryor. In 1982, he did stunt driving for Six Pack starring Kenny Rogers. Castles also had several acting credits in movies like 1973’s The Night of the Cat. He also has transportation department credits as a picture car coordinator or driver, most recently in 2012’s The Hunger Games.

With no victory to his name, J.D. McDuffie holds the record for most Cup starts without a win (653), trailing only Buddy Arrington (560) and Neil Castles (498). On Tuesday, Arrington, whose career coincided with Castles’, died at the age of 84.