Lincoln native Dave Darland is now a grandfather, but he is kicking Father Time’s butt to put it bluntly as he is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches 50 years old as his list of accomplishments continues to grow.
In November, following a second straight down-to-the-wire battle with Bryan Clauson, the 47-year old Darland again was denied in his bid for a second USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series title (he previously won the title in 1999). However to wrap up the 2013 campaign, he joined Bud Kaeding as the only three-time winners of the Oval Nationals at the Perris Auto Speedway, an event that closes out the season each year for the series.
Following the season he was recognized by USAC as the recipient of the first Jason Leffler Memorial Award at the awards banquet. Garnering that award was special for Darland.
“That really felt pretty special winning the award in [Leffler’s] honor,” said Darland. “We both drove for Steve Lewis in the Midget Series and we became good friends over the years. He was a good buddy and I learned a lot from him.”
Last month again he was sought out, this time by the Montgomery Racing ARCA Series team, to take part in a test session at the Daytona International Speedway. The hope is to bring some sponsorship dollars to the team so it can field a car for Darland at selected events in 2014.
“Jeff [Montgomery] is hoping that the team can get a sponsorship deal so I could race in some of the short-track races. If it were to come in, he talked about me driving at places like Winchester, Salem, Toledo and Lucas Oil Raceway Park. We tested well at Daytona so we’ll see what happens. Right now I’m committed to going after the USAC title, so if the opportunity came for me to run the ARCA car, it would be something where I would just have to sit down, talk to Steve and Carla [Phillips, his sprint car owners] and decide whether or not it would conflict with what we are trying to accomplish in the sprint car.”
With his reservoir of experience, Darland is now considered among the elder statesmen with most of the other drivers no older than any of his children. That fact makes what he continues to accomplish all the more impressive.
“I wish I could say that the reason I continue to do OK is because of my exercise habits but I can’t,” Darland said with a chuckle. “I don’t work out at all. All I do is drive a race car and I think that more than anything helps me to stay competitive as I have gotten older. I thank God for giving me the ability to race a car for this long like he has. I’ve been fortunate in getting together with good teams and it seems like the right team at just the right time.”
Last year with his seven USAC Sprint Car Series wins, Darland moved past Jack Hewitt into second-place in all-time career victories. Darland now has 47 to his credit while Hewitt closed his career with 46 wins. Tom Bigelow holds the high-water mark for the series with 52.
Darland’s goals are just as ambitious now as they were 10 years ago. They are simple — go out, run the car as hard as possible and win as many as he can. Closing in on 300 career A-main wins, another season like last year could see Darland’s name perched atop the career feature wins for USAC.
Even with the possibilities out there to move on to another series, open wheel fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief since Darland’s loyalties are pretty obvious.
“I don’t wanna get away from the sprint cars,” he stated. “I still love and have always loved racing them and I’m not planning on getting away from them anytime soon, if at all. Right now it looks like I’ll be back in the Phillips’ No. 71 again for this year and for local stuff Dave Stinzlin is putting me into his car [Physical Medical Consultants No. 41].”
As if all that has happened wasn’t enough already, Darland is also the subject of a new book written by legendary motorsports writer Bones Bourcier titled “The People’s Champ.” The book is expected to be available in July during Indiana Sprint Week.
“It’s pretty fascinating that a guy from Lincoln like me is the subject of a book,” he quipped. “It is hard to imagine. Back when I was playing basketball at Lewis Cass, I would never have thought one day someone would write a book about my life.”
The way he continues to amaze, it’s a good bet that there will be a revision in a couple of years to add to his already Hall of Fame worthy list of accomplishments.
Brett Bowman may be reached by email at email@example.com.