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October 17, 2012

BOWMAN: Darland clearly still knows how to drive a race car

Veteran sprint shoe is chasing after another USAC title.

Twelve months ago, Dave Darland showed up for the annual running of the Kokomo Klash at the Kokomo Speedway in an unfamiliar position.

The popular racer was there to compete in a car he had never seen before and for an owner he had never met. After being in the thick of the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series points battle for most of the season, his previous car owners apparently thought that the tank was dry on Darland’s career.

“I guess they don’t think I know how to drive a race car anymore,” I vividly recall Darland saying that night. “[The previous owners] said they wanted to go a different direction. You know, if I could find a good paying regular job, I think I would just quit.”

Fortunately for us as fans, that career change doesn’t look to be in the works anytime soon. Looking back on that night, it’s easy to see that Darland was obviously frustrated and more than likely hurt.

Having known Darland for the better part of 20 years now, dating back to covering his high school basketball games at Lewis Cass, he is not the type of person to rub someone’s nose in it when he gets the last laugh. In his humble, unassuming way, he gets his point across at the place it hurts car owners the most — by simply laying the smack down to the competition at dirt tracks across the country.

During the offseason, he reunited with legendary car owner Jeff Walker and they have set their sights on yet another USAC National Sprint Car title. With just four races remaining, Darland holds a 23-point lead over second place Bryan Clauson (1,876-1,853). Through most of the season it looked like the title was shaping up to be a four-driver tussle as Levi Jones, Jon Stanbrough as well as Darland and Clauson all were seemingly within striking distance.

However, Jones opted for surgery on his neck following the Sprint Car Smackdown at the local oval in late August and Stanbrough has slid backwards after getting together with Jones in the Smackdown finale and destroying his primary car.

Should Darland hold off Clauson and Stanbrough in the final four races out West, it would be his fifth career USAC National title. He picked up his first championship in the Silver Crown Series in 1997 and then while behind the wheel of the famed Hoffman Racing No. 69, grabbed the 1999 Sprint Car title. Joining a select few of drivers to have won championships in all three of USAC’s “Big Three” divisions, he scored back-to-back titles in 2001 and ‘02 aboard Steve Lewis’ No. 9 midget.

Like Darland, Walker is also looking to score yet another owners title after he and Tony Elliott scored national championships in both 1998 and 2000.

“A lot of people questioned me when [Elliott] and I went our separate ways,” Walker said earlier this season. “Let’s face it, Tony was a helluva race car driver. There has always been a bit of a rivalry between [Elliott] and Dave and I’m sure that it didn’t help things much when Dave got into the car right after him but let’s face it — he’s Dave Darland. In my opinion, I don’t think there is a better driver out there or has been for a long time, if ever.”

So for the rest of us who are getting gray in the beard and a little bit of a gut after turning 40 years old, Darland can be an inspiration that we can all still achieve our goals if we are willing to work hard at it.

Trio of racers on the mend

Kokomo’s Josh Spencer is done for the season after sustaining an injury in the season finale at the Kokomo Speedway, however reports have stated that he is on the mend. During the feature event, Spencer stopped his No. 66J at the pit entrance and was later transported to the hospital.

Ione, Calif., standout Justin Grant, who relocated to Indiana to pursue his racing dreams, is now back home out West after sustaining a broken neck in a passenger car while riding with his car owner’s son leaving the Eldora Speedway following the World 100.

Grant, who had a breakout year in 2011 and scored a handful of wins this year driving the No. 40 owned by Mark Hery, is optimistic that following rehabilitation he will again be behind the wheel of a race car.

Logan Jarrett noted he was sore but recovering after a scary-looking crash at the Lawrenceburg Speedway a couple weeks back. Apparently he had brake problems which resulted in the second-generation standout flipping wildly and being struck in mid-air by Drew Abel.

Stockon earns Terre Haute win

Chase Stockon, who we reported on following the Sprint Car Smackdown in August for competing just days after losing his mother to cancer, led from green to checkered in posting the win in the Jim Hurtubise Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track on Friday night.

Robert Ballou was second and Jerry Coons Jr. third. Tracy Hines and Darland rounded out the top five.

On Saturday at Terre Haute, Bobby East showed how his dirt program has improved in capturing the USAC Traxxas Silver Crown Series Sumar 100.

East led all 100 circuits in beating Coons and Peru’s Russ Gamester to the checkered flag. Bud Kaeding and Hines rounded out the top five. Darland took 12th and Kokomo’s Shane Cottle 14th.

Brett Bowman may be reached by email at brettbowman29@aol.com or through the sports department.

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