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Darrell Gwynn  


 

   

Darrell Gwynn grew up watching and helping his father, Jerry, a former National Hot Road Association (NHRA) world champ, who drove Alcohol Funny Cars. While Darrell obviously got his love of the sport from his dad, he didn't even attempt to drive Funny Cars. He went directly to dragsters.

At 7 years old, Darrell Gwynn was piloting a scaled down dragster designed and hand built by his father, Jerry. By 17, he had earned his first professional competition license, and within 12 years, by 1990, Darrell had worked his way through the ranks to become one of America's hottest NHRA Top Fuel drag racers.

When Darrell Gwynn began his racing career in 1980 in the Alcohol Dragster category of the National Hot Rod Association, he attacked the sport with fierce determination. The fire burned in his eyes at the mere thought of his next round of competition. There was always another barrier to overcome. It finally got to the point where Gwynn would not just overcome barriers, but actually knock them down. As his sportsman victories began to mount, people, especially competitors noticed. Big time sponsors noticed. Everything fell into place for the “kid”.

Darrell was winless that First year; however he did place runner-up at the U.S Nationals. Gwynn won three times in 1981. He added two wins apiece in 1982 and 1983 and three wins in 1984. Not only did Darrell have 10 wins as an Alcohol Dragster, he also was the Top Alcohol Dragster World Champion in 1983. The competitive spirit he developed then still burns today.

At the tender age of 23, Gwynn turned professional as he moved up to the Top Fuel category. While he didn't win a race in his 12 starts, he did qualify number one once, and made it to the final round in two races, including the biggest race of all, the U.S. Nationals. However his sixth place finish in the Winston Championship did not go unnoticed.

The following year, in 1986, Gwynn was the talk of Top Fuel. The kid had even the most seasoned veterans scratching their heads by winning three races in the first half of the season. He was in a dogfight with legendary Don Garlits for a championship. Garlits would ultimately prevail, but Gwynn's four wins, three runner-ups and string of record-setting runs marked him as a quickly rising star in a sport that featured the likes of Garlits, Kalitta, Muldowney, Ormsby, LaHaie, Amato and Hill.


Over the next three years, Gwynn would win another 13 races, but never get the gold ring. He finished third, second and fourth in points, but couldn't call the championship his own. 1990 would be the year that everything changed. The barriers would grow taller. Overcoming them would be his greatest challenge.

Gwynn started his campaign that year in familiar fashion; winning the Gatornationals at a track he considered his home track, in his only final round appearance in four starts. It would be his 18th and final win as a driver.

Fate took Gwynn to England in April that year. In an exhibition race at Santa Pod Raceway his dragster suddenly broke and veered left into the retaining wall at halftrack at approximately 240mph, causing major life-threatening injuries to the 28-year-old driver. A terrific battle of faith and determination allowed Gwynn to survive the ordeal, he was left paralyzed and he lost his left arm. Given this unfortunate event, one thing that never changed was his willingness to meet challenges head-on and to live life on his terms. The competitive spirit he developed early on still burns today. You can still see it deep within and raging in his eyes.

Since that time, Gwynn changed roles from star driver to team owner. He employed Frank Hawley, Mike Brotherton, Mike Dunn, Andrew Cowin and Cory McClenathan to handle the driving duties. Jerry Gwynn, the biggest influence on Darrell's career decisions, was a vital part of the team as manager. Despite all the changes, Darrell Gwynn was still the driving force that kept the team focused and directed toward a championship.

"I realized a long time ago what this team needed to be successful," says Gwynn. "At first, I tried to do too much, trying to tune the car, run the business and handle all the details."

"It was unfair to the team for me to stay involved in tuning the car the way I used to do it," Gwynn added. "They're the ones working on it 15-18 hours a day. Tuning the car is a hands-on thing. It's nearly impossible for someone in my physical circumstances to do that. However, I would still spend a lot of time with the team discussing the data from the computer in the race car."

"It was good therapy for me early on, to use my brain and think about the car," he said, talking about the mental demands of being a crew chief. "It was just time to move on. What did I have to prove traveling around to every single race? Instead I spent a lot of time working with the sponsors and trying to build for the future, and build a family. I now have a great wife Lisa and an amazing little girl Katie, born June 26, 1998. I would let those guys handle the race set-up while I concentrated on the future and the new family. That was a full-time job, believe me."

Gwynn's signature style of barrier busting continues both in front of and beyond the reach of the public eye. In 2001, at the biggest event in NHRA's 50th anniversary year, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Gwynn demonstrated his willingness and ability to live life to the fullest. At the site of his most prestigious racing win, Gwynn shocked and wowed a capacity crowd by driving a custom-built, hand-controlled dragster down the Indianapolis Raceway Park quarter-mile track in a special exhibition run. The dragster was built in secrecy by a former crewmember, Mike Gerry as a surprise 40th birthday gift. Gwynn was presented the unique present hours before he took it to the track to delight all in attendance. Though traversing the quarter-mile at a snail's pace compared to his Top Fuel days, the symbolism contained within the on-track return of the once fallen racing champion was felt far and wide.

Beyond such dramatic feats of a no-barriers lifestyle, Gwynn continues to make his presence felt in both business and civic arenas. As a businessman, Gwynn presides over Darrell Gwynn Collectibles. In 2002, Gwynn launched the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the cure of paralysis. That endeavor finds Gwynn active in fund-raising and educational programs. The foundation's Quality of Life initiatives include programs such as a national wheelchair giveaway to financially underprivileged paralysis victims.

Although the DGR NHRA Race Team had a tremendous amount of sentimental value to Darrell, at the end of 2003 with travel becoming increasingly more difficult Darrell chose to sell the team. Darrell decided helping others through the Darrell Gwynn Foundation and spending more quality time with his little girl and wife would be a greater reward than any race won.

In the mean time, from Darrell’s racing days through the foundation he has unknowingly found himself a role model to an international following of respectful admirers.




 
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Darrell Gwynn
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