Danny Caruthers
Danny Caruthers

Danny Caruthers & One Spectacular Season

Danny Caruthers’ phenomenal performance in the summer of 1971 astounded USAC’s national midget circuit. 

During that one season, the 21-year-old blazed unexpectedly onto the scene, notched 12 feature wins, claimed the national championship and just as suddenly was gone. 

The younger brother of Jimmy Caruthers, Danny automatically acquired the nickname, “The Kid.” Like his big brother, Danny Caruthers first tasted racing in quarter midgets on tracks around his Southern California home. Particularly at his father’s circuit, the Jelly Bean Bowl. 

Carved out of the land adjacent to Doug Caruthers’ Viking Trailer Co. in Anaheim, the tiny speedway was where quarter midget racing sprouted. Hundreds of kids raced there until Doug leased the property to another kid-appealing entity, Disneyland. 

Danny Caruthers displayed his potential early by capturing a National Quarter Midget Championship, with full-size midgets his next step. 

He began dabbling with them while attending Fullerton Junior College, but it didn’t take long for him to turn from the academic life and follow Jimmy’s course to become a professional race car driver. 

In late 1970, he got his first shot at the USAC midgets. Jimmy had won the 1970 USAC national midget crown, beating his teammate, Bob Tattersall, for the title. By that year’s Turkey Night Grand Prix, Tattersall, who had fought cancer for four years, was too ill to compete. 

Jimmy secured the ride for his brother, who responded with an impressive seventh-place finish in one of the nation’s most important midget races. 

With only one USAC race to his credit, Danny Caruthers tackled the full USAC season in 1971. Driving one of his father’s Sesco/Chevy-powered midgets, he opened the season  at Ascot Park Speedway, breaking a 10-year-old track qualifying record held by Jimmy Reece. 

A few weeks later in Lima, Ohio, he raced to his first USAC midget feature victory, beating his brother at the checkered flag. He won the next two races as well. 

During that magical season, Danny Caruthers won on every size and type of track he encountered. 

Even when he didn’t win, he extracted every bit of speed available from his car. He became the guy others knew they had to beat. “When you saw that yellow No. 5 unloading in the pits, you knew you had you’re work cut out for you,” recalled Lee Kunzman. 

Perhaps there was no better example of Danny’s eerie ability and car control than his qualifying run  for the 1971 Hut Hundred at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track. 

“That kid took the green flag,” marveled Kunzman, “and never lifted. The track was good that day, but Danny was the only one who was able to run flat. He was incredible. Jimmy was a good driver, but, you know, Danny was even better.” 

As the 1971 season rolled on to completion, Danny Caruthers clinched the national championship by finishing second to Gary Bettenhausen at Arizona’s Manzanita Speedway on Oct. 22. He was the youngest USAC champion. 

A few days later, at Capital Speedway in Sacramento, he and his dad got into a heated argument. No one recalls exactly what they argued about, but Doug was known to become excitable about his racing — firing and rehiring his drivers routinely. Even his sons. 

Regardless, at Corona (Calif.) Raceway on Oct. 30, Danny was in Jack Fitzpatrick’s car. Bill Vukovich Jr recalls what took place that night. 

“Back then, after they pushed us off for the feature, they would let us hot lap and then line up. Danny had quick time. I was second or third quick and got behind Danny for hot laps. I knew he’d be fast and I wanted to see what he’d do. He drove right into the turn one wall. Looked like his throttle stuck.” 

He suffered a fractured skull and a broken neck. He lived for five days, before passing on Nov. 4. 

It’s difficult to fathom what Danny Caruthers might have accomplished in a lifetime of racing. If his one season in the big time was any indication, he would’ve been spectacular.

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