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