10/2/1917 - 26/4/2009
Midget auto racing legend. Danny Kladis died 13 years ago, he was 92
He was born in Crystal City, Missouri, but moved to Chicago before he made his competetive debut in 1935 at an indoor race. He turned out to be very quick. Always prepared to drive anything, Kladis found most of his success in Midget racing, taking his first feature race win, driving Joe Shaheen’s Offenhauser-powered midget at Greenup, Illinois in 1940
He drove 'big cars' on the old Central States Racing Association circuit in 1939 and 1940 and the following year tried his luck in AAA.
The war brought a temprary end to racing and Danny went to work for the Ford Motor Company as a supervisor at the plant that built Pratt and Whitney Wasp R-4360 engines. Later he worked on the engines of Howard Hughes’ famed “Spruce Goose” wooden airplane which was powered by eight of the R-4360 engines.
Amongst the many tales about Kladis is one about when he blindfolded himself and did two laps of qualifying on a oval dirt track in a midget. He also did the driving for Clark Gable in the film 'To Please a Lady' about open wheel racing.
In 1946, Andy Granatelli purchased one of the two-man Fords that appeared in the 1935 Indy race. He and his brothers put headlights on the car and drove it down to Indianapolis to participate in the first Indianapolis 500 to be driven by Danny Kladis.
'We had a muffler and our own starter,' he said about the car. 'When we'd go out to get food, we'd drive around the garage and out the gate. In the race, the car became the first ever to be disqualified, though it was able to run.' Departing after a pit stop, Kladis forgot to push the button to open the fuel flow, and the car stalled on the backstretch. Granatelli hustled over and saw Kladis sitting dejectedly on the rail. Andy climbed into the car, pushed the button and the car started right up. They towed it across the infield to the pits, but when Kladis tried to resume the race, Granatelli was told the car was disqualified for being towed.
That year he won the Mississippi Valley Midget Championship driving the Lund V8. He would take the title again in 1947 and 1948.
With the introduction of short track stock car racing in Chicago in 1948, Kladis won the first-ever 300 lap stock car race at Raceway Park in late October driving a military Jeep that he had borrowed.
He attempted to qualify for Indy again in 1949 but failed to make the mark with a Lencki. He failed again the following year with the Federal Engineering Maserati.
In 1951 he failed to qualify the Trainor Chicago Trainor Auto Parts Special. This was the first rear engined Indy car. Origionally built before the war as the Gulf-Miller, it resembled the Auto Unions in all but performance, handling and reliability! It reappeared after the war firstly as the Tucker Torpedo Special, to promote the ill fated road cars, before becoming the Trainor Chicago Trainor Auto Parts Special. It did qualify one but never finished.
For 1952 he took the wheel of the Offy powered Tuffanelli-Derrico's Diedt front-wheel drive special but once again DNQ.
He did drive relief for Travis “Spider” Webb in 1954, but the team could do no better than a 30th place finish in Webb’s Advance Muffler entry.
In 1955 he tried but once again failed to qualify for Indy, this time in Roy McKay's Kurtis Kraft Offy.
In 1957 a Maserati Tipo 4CLT/48 'San Remo' (1604) turned up at Indianapolis entered by Marguerite Morgan of Morgan Engineering, Kladis was to do the driving. Unfortunately he was too slow to qualify as he needed to have averaged almost 140 mph for the four laps to make the field. However, his four-lap average of 124.412 mph was the fastest ever by a 1½-litre car. In the same year he also attempted to qualify a W154 Mercedes that had somehow made its way to the United States. It had first appeared at Indy in 1947 but retired with piston ring failure which caused damages to the rods and valves. The car was repaired but during the 1948 edition it retired with oil pressure problems. The engine was removed and put into storeage. The car was sold less engine to Joe Thorne who wanted a more streamlined car. A Thorne-Sparks 4.5 litre engine was installed. The car was entered in 1949-1950 and 1951 at Indy with respective N°81-33 and 88 but failed to qualify each year. After that it was stored at Indianapolis until the end of 1955 when Edward Shreeve, a local policeman bought it, the price being, it is said, the amount of the storage bill. Shreeve installed a Jaguar D-type engine in the car and entered it at Indy 1957 with Danny Kladis as driver (N°84 Safety Auto Glass Sp); it failed once more to qualify.
In 1962 he took the United Auto Racing Association championship driving Bob Lockard’s Ford powered car, winning 11 feature races.
Kladis was also a pilot, flying commercial airlines and doing charter work. He was the father of seven children: George, who was the 1971 UARA champion, Joanne, Carole, Ciciela, Christopher, Danny Jr, and Michael. His sister Dot also used to race.