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Danny Frye Sr. stands on the gas at the Terre Haute Action Track in 1969. JOHN MAHONEY PHOTO

The Flying Frye Family

Sohm was one of racing’s true characters. As Frye Jr. put it, “Gus was Gus. He kept his cars in the basement of the funeral home. Sometimes you would go down there and there would be a body on a gurney. When that happened Gus would just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Well, he didn’t make it.’”

Frye began the 1964 season in Florida and raced wherever it made the most sense to him. It worked out. He earned high-profile wins with USAC, scored in Florida and nailed down victories at Springfield and Sedalia with IMCA. When he wasn’t on the road, Frye competed with SLARA and claimed his first of two consecutive titles.

At that time, SLARA raced at tracks within easy driving distance of the Gateway City and in late summer travel to a wide range of county fairs. Herein was the rub. The USAC brass loved him when he was at their show, but the rest of his body of work was often rewarded with a suspension.

In those days, the confrontations between Frye and Bob Stroud were predictable and almost comical.

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Danny Frye Jr. at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb. – Bob Mays photo

Danny Frye Jr. recalled those years, “Dad wasn’t what you call a good boy with USAC. He and Bob Stroud went around and around for years. He was always in trouble for going to an IMCA or SLARA event. If he came home after a race on Saturday and there was a St. Louis race on Sunday, he was going to go there. That’s the way it was.”

For many years, the outdoor midget season began in earnest at Memorial Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla. It was here Frye may have done the most to hone his national reputation. It was a difficult track to pass, but it was still the place to be.

Frye Jr. finds it easy to understand why his father had so much success there. “Dad was a slick-track expert,” he said. “He was as smooth as glass.”

Between 1964 and 1971, Frye won six times at the stadium. For the first of his two 1964 wins he held off Mario Andretti, who was paired with owner Bruce Homeyer. One year later, Andretti was rookie of the year at the Indianapolis 500 and won the national championship.

Frye was the promoter at Lake Hill Speedway in 1970 and ’71, while racing into the mid-1970s. However, his career nearly ended in a grinding crash in 1967 at St. Charles (Mo.) Speedway.

“I looked up and all four tires were on the wall and he was heading toward a little opening where people could come down into the infield after the races,” Danny Frye Jr. explained. “His wheel caught that opening and he just stopped. As the car rolled over, it drove the roll bar into the ground. He had his shoulder harness on and it just pushed everything down and broke his back and neck. The second time it went over it got his arm between the roll bar and the ground and crushed it.”

For mere mortals the rehabilitation time would have been extensive and some hardcore racers would have retired on the spot. Amazingly, within a matter of a few months, Frye was racing again.

Well before Frye called it quits, his son had begun his own career. Danny Frye Jr. was all in at an early age. A pivotal moment came when Frye Jr. was playing football for Hazelwood High School and his coach announced there would be a practice on Saturday afternoon.

Frye waited for a moment before telling his coach he had already planned to go to Du Quoin, Ill., to help work on his father’s race car. The coach told the younger Frye it was decision time. Frye Jr. pulled off his shoulder pads, removed his spikes and left for good. His story underscores how different the racing scene was at the time.

Today, Frye Jr. enjoys telling the tale about how security escorted him out of the pits at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Action Track for being underage. The third time he was apprehended the exasperated authorities marched him to his dad’s car and announced that one more violation would lead to a trip downtown, and he would be booked. He was 19 years old.

Frye Jr. wanted to race but after graduating from high school in 1967 he was mightily concerned about being drafted. He was on the waiting list to join the Air National Guard and was eventually summoned. His decision, he said, “kept him out of the jungle.” After completing basic training, he reported to Lambert Field and loaded bombs on F100s.

Even without the specter of Vietnam looming there weren’t many opportunities for a young person to race during this age. The eager were forced to bide their time and hope. For Frye Jr. a window opened after his basic training concluded. His first opportunity came in a car that had a remarkable history.

During a trip to Johnny Pawl’s Indiana shop, Pawl suggested that midget owner Frank Pavese might be willing to part with what he deemed “a nice little midget.”

The car was a Kurtis Kraft chassis powered by a Ford V8-60 that had been fielded by engineering wizard Vic Edelbrock on the West Coast. Rodger Ward had driven the car to victory over a stout field of Offenhauser-powered cars at California’s Gilmore Stadium. Edelbrock sold the car to Pavese with Bob Tattersall handling the car, particularly at Joliet (Ill.) Memorial Stadium.

The elder Frye bought the car from Pavese for $2,500 and Frye Jr. had a ride.

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