Danny Oakes

Danny Oakes

18/7/1911 - 13/1/2007

A good American driver who won many Midget races and Championships. Never had any luck as a driver at Indy, failing to qualify five times. However, Danny was one of the best mechanics to have ever worked on a race car and he helped others to success at the 'Brickyard'.

Danny Oakes was born in Santa Barbara, California, in 1911 and moved to the Los Angeles area in the early 1930's to pursue a racing career.  California was one of the major racing areas during the Depression, with over a hundred tracks in the Los Angeles area alone.

Weather, Hollywood, a large and avid car racing population and large prize winnings played a part in the success of auto racing on the West Coast.  Here racers from across the country could congregate in the numerous repair shops and get a head start for that year's racing.  While the rest of the country was in the grips of cold, snow and rain, race car owners and drivers were busy winning races in sunny California.
 
Then as the nation slowly warmed up, these California race teams exploded eastward and northward as the country's tracks and racing seasons began to open.  Oakes was one of those Depression era drivers who knew how to win a race.  He always said that a good driver knows how to finish a race.  He sneered at all of the hotshot drivers of those days who "had a lead foot, and not much else."  He always said that there was no use in winning races if you destroyed your car and yourself in the process.  He drove cautiously, biding his time, waiting like a shark for that school of fish, and at the end of the race he knew exactly when and where to make his move.

Danny believed in conditioning. He was a generation ahead of his time in keeping fit. While others were at the saloons, Danny was out walking or dancing. Dancing, he used to say kept him fit and endeared him to the ladies.
 
Perry Grimm won more than his share of races, but often found Oakes to be his most dangerous competitor. "Weren't you tired," said Grimm, "you beat me in that last lap."  Oakes would tease his competitor and say, "No, I had another 100 laps in me."  Danny won the 1945 Turkey Night Grand Prix and 3 West Coast Midget Championships along with numerous other races in his career, but struggled at the Indy 500. "Just didn't have enough car for me," he said on many occasions. But as a chief mechanic, he put many people into the winners circle.  As good a race car driver as Danny Oakes was, he was by far one of the best mechanics to have ever worked on a race car.

His mechanical genius came to light when he prepared the car for Jim Hurtubise in 1960. The rookie driver outqualified the field by almost three miles per hour and was a whisker short of turning the first 150 m.p.h. lap at the Brickyard. “Herk” took “Rookie of the Year” honors and Johnny White also won the award in 1964 with Danny Oakes as the crew chief.

© Richard Parks

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