One Glorious Summer For Danny Caruthers

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Danny Caruthers
Danny Caruthers at speed at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. (Bob Gates Photo Collection)

Danny Caruthers took the ultra-competitive USAC national midget championship circuit by storm one glorious summer — and then suddenly was gone.

Before that 1971 season ended, the 21-year-old had claimed 12 feature wins and the championship, becoming (at that time) the youngest USAC champion, and the first to be awarded a title posthumously.

Like his brother, Jimmy, and many other young men who impacted American racing during the 1970s, Danny Caruthers got his first taste of racing in quarter midgets on tracks throughout Southern California. Particularly at his father’s legendary Southern California track, the Jelly Bean Bowl.

Carved out behind Doug Caruthers’s Viking Trailer Co. in Anaheim, the little speedway was a favorite of kids fascinated with racing and was incessantly busy before the property was leased to another kid-appealing entity — Disneyland. Before that happened, Caruthers honed his natural racing ability and won a national quarter-midget championship.

Graduating from quarter midgets, Caruthers dabbled in midgets while attending Fullerton Junior College. It was at Fullerton that he decided to follow his older brother’s path and become a professional race car driver.

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With his focus on racing, Caruthers quickly proved himself and in late 1970 got his first shot at the rigorous competition of the USAC midgets. His brother, Jimmy, had earned the 1970 USAC national midget title teamed with the legendary Bob Tattersall.

By the prestigious Turkey Night Grand Prix, Tattersall, who had been fighting cancer for four years, was gravely ill and could not compete. Jimmy Caruthers secured the ride for Danny Caruthers. Danny Caruthers responded with an impressive seventh-place finish.

With only the one USAC race to his credit, Danny Caruthers, driving one of his father’s potent Sesco/Chevy-powered midgets, tackled the full USAC schedule in 1971.

He began dramatically. At California’s legendary Ascot Speedway, Caruthers broke a 10-year-old track record in qualifying that was held by Hall of Famer Jimmy Reece. The “Kid,” as he was dubbed, no doubt, could punch the button.