Each time the month of May rolled around during the late 1950s, a young Pancho Carter would anxiously await the afternoon bell that signaled the end of the school day.
“I remember being in elementary school in Speedway (Ind.),” the now 70-year-old Carter told SPEED SPORT. “When school would let out, I’d jump on my bike and ride over to the race track and watch the cars run. When practice was over, I’d ride home and have dinner or whatever.”
While watching the cars circle the legendary 2.5-mile track, Carter would dream of following in his father’s footsteps by competing in the sport’s greatest race.
Reflecting on a racing career that included 17 starts in the Indianapolis 500, a victory in the inaugural Michigan 500 and four USAC championships, Duane Carter Jr. is living proof that dreams do come true.
Carter was born June 11, 1950, in Racine, Wis., while his parents were on their way to a race in Milwaukee — and he’s been a part of the sport ever since.
“I remember going to the track when my dad (Duane Carter) was still running sprint cars,” Carter replied when asked about his earliest racing memories. “I’d always have a wheel hammer or a screwdriver in my hand, not that I knew what I was doing, but at least I thought I did. Being born into it, it was pretty much always something I wanted to do. It was a matter of opening some doors, begging for rides and just getting a chance to see if I could do it.”
Carter did some quarter midget racing as a child, but his driving career began to take off while he was earning a business degree from California State University, Long Beach.
“I started running TQs and midgets when I was 17,” said Carter, who had moved to the West Coast with his mother in 1963. “I’d fly back and forth because I was running ARDC midgets and a little bit of USAC midgets until I graduated in 1973. I’d stay a week at school and then I’d stay a week wherever I was racing, so I’d miss a week of school. I worked it all out with my teachers where I did all of my work, so they passed me.”
Carter, who settled in Brownsburg, Ind., quickly became a rising star on the USAC sprint car and midget circuits with his impressive talent attracting the attention of Indy car team owners. In 1974, he fulfilled his dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500.
“It was mainly because of Jimmy Caruthers and Jim McGee,” Carter said about his opportunity to run the 500. “They were both working for Bob Fletcher — McGee as a crew chief or team manager and Jimmy as a driver, and they had Jerry Grant as a second driver. They wanted to run a third car at the speedway, so Jimmy put a good word in for me and so did McGee and I got the chance to run my first Indy car at Indy.”
Carter finished seventh and was named rookie of the year. He also earned his first of two USAC sprint car titles that year, driving for Steve Stapp.
“We argued just enough that we came up with the right combination,” Carter said about his relationship with Stapp. “We would definitely butt heads at times. If the car wasn’t just right, I’d move around on the race track until I found someplace that it did work. I think that was one of the things that impressed Steve. Every now and then we would really hit it and we’d be really fast.”
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