If ever there was a driver in Arizona racing history who made racing a sprint car look easy, it was “Flyin’ Frank” McDaniel. Twice McDaniel was the Arizona Racing Association driving champion. In fact, when he won his first driving title in 1963, McDaniel was the youngest driver to pull off that feat.
Gene Brown had set a record number of wins at Manzanita, 15, and may have been champ, but he did not race on the ¼-mile track north of downtown Tucson. McDaniel, living in the Old Pueblo at the time, raced Tucson on Friday nights and he won nine times – impressive! In 1963 points in the ARA were awarded at both tracks. When you also consider the fact that the vast majority of Brown’s wins were at Manzy, McDaniel finished 2nd in the race and the ARA title was easily in Frank’s grasp by the end of the season.
During the 1964 season, McDaniel broke Harry Bechtel’s one-lap record of 22.72-seconds with a lap of 22.52-seconds. That record stood for six years! McDaniel took a hiatus from sprint car racing after the 1965 season and made spot starts, usually filling in when Hank Arnold, Frank’s racing hero, was unavailable to drive Harry Anderson’s sprinter. Tragedy brought McDaniel back to full time racing when the popular Arnold died in a sprint car race at Manzanita on June 17, 1967. McDaniel thought it would be good if the grieving Anderson got back into racing again, so he convinced Anderson to rebuild the car and return to Manzanita with Frank as the driver.
The McDaniel/Anderson team was immediately successful and became front runners, finishing second to Jerry McClung in the 1968 championship. Anderson eventually retired as a car owner, but this time McDaniel was looking to stay in action and was coveted for his skill.
Lloyd Meek of Phoenix was building a super team for ARA. He started with Benton Burns, a close friend of Frank’s, and then added Dick Morgan. The final piece fell into place when the combination of Bob Cleberg and Bruce Robinson broke up when Robinson retired. Robinson sold the car that Cleberg had won both the ARA driving title and the inaugural Western States Championship to Meek, who then hired McDaniel.
McDaniel went on a streak where there were times that his competition thought they might never win against him. En route to winning the 1970 driving title, McDaniel won five straight main events, which set a record. After that streak was broken, McDaniel won four-straight and breezed to a championship, all the way making it look easy.
McDaniel’s 1963 championship winning Hanson’s DS Service Station Chevy is proudly on display at the Arizona Open Wheel Museum.