This is part one of a feature story on Jerry “Scratch” Daniels which appeared in the September issue of Sprint Car & Midget Magazine. Part two will be released on Monday.
Any trip to the Minnesota State Fair was sure to be exciting for a lad still in elementary school, but for Jerry Daniels it was a life changing event. World War II was in the rear-view mirror, and after years of sacrifice by many, the nation was ready for a little fun and frolic.
Frank Daniels was a truck driver by trade, and auto racing was a welcome diversion from the daily grind. He had already taken his children to Twin Cities Speedway (later known as North Star Speedway) but the destination on this day wasn’t just an ordinary race.
While the American Automobile Ass’n and its successor, the United States Auto Club, were seen as the gateway to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, hence, the major leagues, things were a bit different in the heartland.
Here, no events were bigger, or more important, than the races at places like Des Moines, Lincoln, Sedalia, and notably, St. Paul, Minn.
This was primarily the province of the International Motor Contest Ass’n, long under the watchful eye of J. Alex Sloan, who was followed by equally legendary figures Al Sweeney and Frank Winkley.
For so many youngsters, a trip to the fair meant a chance to see and hear exotic race cars and get your fill of hot dogs, candy floss and lemonade. Sure, you were exhausted and struggling with a stomach ache on the ride home, but you would gladly repeat the process the next day.
In truth, it is hard for modern fans to really grasp just how big these races were, but Jerry Daniels doesn’t need convincing. He witnessed it all with eyes as big as saucers.
Hearkening back to those days, Daniels recalled, “They drew 30,000 people there, and after my dad introduced me to racing I would ride my bike out there, lean it against the fence and get into the fairgrounds.
“I got to watch guys like Emory Collins, Deb Snyder and Tommy Hinnershitz.”
Meanwhile, Frank Daniels and his wife Mable, who worked as a waitress, rounded up their children and moved to East St. Paul. Jerry, who had previously attended St. Bernard’s Elementary School, enrolled in Blessed Sacrament School and would eventually matriculate to Harding High School, where he participated in gymnastics.
While the parallel bars had once provided a stiff challenge, he now had a strong urge to get behind the wheel.
While hanging around race tracks in the Twin Cities area, Jerry became friends with a local driver named Joel Maroney. Unexpectedly, Maroney dangled a carrot in front of his young helper.
The proposition was simple: if Daniels could get a car ready by Sunday, he would get a chance to race. For the 16-year-old kid, his mount was a 1939 Ford Jalopy and the place was the Stillwater Speedbowl.
It was here that Daniels met a young man who ended up being a central figure in his life. Jerry Richert was from Forrest Lake, and the Speedbowl was built by Jerry’s uncle on his own property.
Richert cut his teeth in 1950s-era supermodifieds, and soon stood out in the car sponsored by Chicone’s Food and Liquor.
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