12/2/1929 - 9/6/1968
One of the top sprint car and midget racers of the 1950s and 1960s, Ronnie Duman was killed in a crash in the Rex Mays 150 at the Milwaukee Mile. He drove in the USAC Championship Car series, racing in the 1961-1968 seasons, with 63 career starts, including the 1964-1968 Indianapolis 500 races. He finished in the top ten 27 times, with a best finish of 3rd in 1965 at Phoenix. Ronnie Duman died 53 years ago, he was 39 , He would have been 92.
Born in Dearborn, Michigan, USA. Ronnie Duman's mother died in childbirth and he was sent to the St. Francis Home for Orphan Boys in Detroit. He later joined the US Army and, on his discharge in 1950, he returned to Detroit where he went to work as a test driver for Ford.
Ronnie became interested in racing in 1951 after attending a jalopy race with friends. He immediately set about building his own car and within a month he started racing. He did not enjoy instant success but he persevered and before long started winning at his local track.
Duman was determined to make racing his profession and, later in the year, he started to get occasional drives in midgets and roadsters for other owners as well as continuing to race his own jalopy.
By the mid 1950s Duman had built a solid reputation and his services as a driver were in constant demand, but his goal remained to compete in the Indy.
In 1957 racing in the Little 500 at Anderson Speedway, the fastest high banked quarter mile oval in the world, he was leading easily when he retired with mechanical failure. Later in the year he won the Flat Rock 500 for sprint cars. The following year he finished second the Little 500 and he then went on to take back to back wins there in 1958 and 1959. During this time he took another three 100-lap midget feature race wins.
In 1961 he passed his rookie test at Indy but failed to qualify Ray Brady's Kurtis Offy. For the rest of his Rookie season he drove a Meskowski Offy, making the grid on five occasions with a best finish of 9th on the dirt oval at Sacramento. He was also named Rookie of the Year at the Hoosier 100 dirt car race.
He failed to qualify at Indy again in 1962 but in other races posted a number of good finishes especially at Milwaukee where he finished 6th and 8th, having qualified in 6th, and another 6th at Langhorne.
After another disappointing DNQ at Indy when he crashed in practice in 1963, he had another reasonable year with a best finish of 6th at Langhorne.
In 1964 he finally got a competitive ride at Indy in the number 64 Clean Wear Service Co Trevis Offy. He put the car on the grid in 16th spot but unfortunately got caught up in the fiery crash on the second lap that took the lives of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. Duman miraculously survived the fiery accident but received severe burns. However he came back and by August was racing again, finishing 6th in the Champ Car race at Milwaukee and, in midgets winning, the Hut 100 at Terre Haute.
With the switch to rear engined cars in the mid 1960s, Ronnie once again found himself without a competitive ride however he still managed to post some good finishes with traditional front engined roadsters and uprights, finishing a Champ Car career best third at Phoenix in 1965.
In 1964 Jerry Eisert had built an Indy car for Frank Harrison Jnr. Based on a Lotus Formula Junior with a Chevy motor, no-one had managed to qualify the car, including Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser. However in 1966, 24 hours before the race, Eisert swapped the Chevy for a Ford and gave the car to Duman who qualified it in 33rd spot. Unfortunately he was eliminated in the largest crash ever at the start of an Indy 500. As the green flag fell, Billy Foster got into the outside wall on the main straight starting a chain reaction which involved fifteen other cars.
He did get a decent rear engine drive the following year, a year in which he once again proved to be a reliable performer with a few top ten finishes.
For 1968 he drove a Brabham Offy at Indy. He qualified a slightly disappointing 26th, but in the race he came through to finish 6th, his best result at the Brickyard.
Ten days later he was back at his favorite track, the Milwaukee Mile, for the the Rex Mays 150. He qualified in 12th place but dropped to the back at the start with turbo problems. It seemed to right itself on lap two and he was passing Bay Darnell's Curtis-Chevrolet on the outside in Turn 1 when Darnell spun. They collided and Duman's car flew high into the catch fencing. The car came down nose first and the cockpit caught the concrete retaining wall, splitting Ronnie's helmet in two and killing him instantly. The car caught fire and Norm Brown, in a Lola-Ford, and Bay Darnell, both crashed on the wreckage. Norm Brown and Bay Darnell both suffered major burns, and eight spectators were hurt by flying debris.
During his career Ronnie Duman took 8 USAC feature wins in the Midget Car Division
A.J. Foyt, Roger McCluskey and Dan Gurney all donated their earning from appearances in 'Winning', a Paul Newman film about racing in which they played themselves, to Ronnie's widow and children.