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My Story


Jerry And Darrell Gwynn

The life of Darrell Gwynn has always involved racing. He grew up watching and helping his father, Jerry, a former National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) world champ, who drove Alcohol Funny Cars. While Darrell 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.

Darrell Gwynn's biography started to take more shape when he began his racing career in 1980 in the Alcohol Dragster category of the National Hot Rod Association, where 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. Then, 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, and he then added two wins apiece in 1982 and 1983 and three wins in 1984. Not only did Darrell have 10 wins as an Alcohol Dragster, but he was also 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.

Child Pushing a Tire

Crouched

The Talk of Top Fuel

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 a 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 half track, moving 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, but he was left paralyzed and 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 — that competitive spirit burning. You can still see it deep within his eyes.

Star Driver to Team Owner

Since that time, Gwynn has 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 most significant 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."

Team With A Trophy

"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 racecar."

"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 setup 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 he traversed 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.

Continuing His Presence

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 Racing Collectibles. In 2002, Gwynn and his wife, Lisa, launched the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to providing support for people living with paralysis and programs targeted towards the prevention of spinal cord injuries. The foundation’s primary support program was its national Wheelchair Donation Program, which donated over 300 custom wheelchairs to individuals facing medical and financial hardships. At the close of 2014, Darrell and Lisa decided to continue this work with The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis and established the Darrell Gwynn Quality of Life Chapter at The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. For more information, please visit:

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Darrell Gwynn Sitting

Race Wins As a Driver:

  • 1981, Top/Alcohol Dragster, Sportsnationals
  • 1981, Top/Alcohol Dragster, Summernationals
  • 1981, Top/Alcohol Dragster, Golden Gate Nationals
  • 1982, Top/Alcohol Dragster,Sportsnationals
  • 1983, Top/Alcohol Dragster, Grandnationals
  • 1983, Top/Alcohol Dragster, US Nationals
  • 1984, Top/Alcohol Dragster, Gatornationals
  • 1984, Top/Alcohol Dragster, Sportsnationals
  • 1984, Top/Alcohol Dragster, Northstar Nationals
  • 1986, Top/Fuel Dragster, Winternationals
  • 1986, Top/Fuel Dragster, Grandnationals
  • 1986, Top/Fuel Dragster, Summer Nationals
  • 1986, Top/Fuel Dragster, World Finals
  • 1987, Top/Fuel Dragster, Southern Nationals
  • 1987, Top/Fuel Dragster, Northstar Nationals
  • 1987, Top/Fuel Dragster, Chief Auto Parts Nationals
  • 1987, Top/Fuel Dragster, World Finals
  • 1988, Top/Fuel Dragster, MidSouth Nationals
  • 1988, Top/Fuel Dragster, Cajun Nationals
  • 1988, Top/Fuel Dragster, Springnationals
  • 1988, Top/Fuel Dragster, SeaFair Nationals
  • 1988, Top/Fuel Dragster, Keystone Nationals
  • 1988, Top/Fuel Dragster, Winston Finals
  • 1989, Top/Fuel Dragster, Gatornationals
  • 1989, Top/Fuel Dragster, US Nationals
  • 1989, Top/Fuel Dragster, Keystone Nationals
  • 1990, Top/Fuel Dragster, Gatornationals

Darrell Gwynn With Trophies

Wins As an Owner:

  • 1990, Top/Fuel Dragster, Springnationals
  • 1990, Top/Fuel Dragster, Chief Auto Parts Nationals
  • 1992, Top/Fuel Dragster, Northwest Nationals
  • 1993, Top/Fuel Dragster, Mile High Nationals
  • 1993, Top/Fuel Dragster, Chief Nationals
  • 1995, Top/Fuel Dragster, Autolite Nationals
  • 1995, Top/Fuel Dragster, Champion Auto Stores Nationals
  • 1995, Top/Fuel Dragster, Slick 50 Nationals
  • 1996, Top/Fuel Dragster, Pennzoil Nationals
  • 1999, Top/Fuel Dragster, Winternationals
  • 1999, Top/Fuel Dragster, Gatornationals
  • 1999, Top/Fuel Dragster, Route 66 Nationals
  • 1999, Top/Fuel Dragster, NHRA Finals
  • 2001, Top/Fuel Dragster, Southern Nationals
  • 2001, Top/Fuel Dragster, NHRA Finals

Notable Accomplishments

  • 28 NHRA National Event Wins - 18 in Top Fuel and 10 in Top Alcohol Dragster
  • (It took Ed McCulloch 179 races to get 18 wins, Mark Oswald 221 races to get 18 wins, and Matt Hagan 155 races to get 18 wins, but it only took Darrell Gwynn an AMAZING 79 races to get 18 wins!)
  • Finished in Top 10 Every Year since 1982
  • Two IHRA National Event Wins
  • 1980 Rookie of the Year - Southeast Division II
  • 1981 Most Improved Driver - Southeast Division II
  • 1982-1984 Southeast Division II Champion Top Alcohol Dragster
  • 1983 Became the First Second-Generation NHRA National Event Winner ('81 Sportsnationals)
  • 1983 Became the First Second-Generation NHRA World Champion - Top Alcohol Dragster
  • 1983 Sportsman Driver of the Year - Southeast Division II - Top Alcohol Dragster
  • 1982-1984, 1987, 1990 Car Craft Magazine All-Star Driver of the Year
  • 1986 Inducted into the "Sons of Danger" by Big Daddy Don Garlits
  • 1987-1989 Professional Driver of the Year - Southeast Division II
  • 1988 Member Touchdown Club of Columbus
  • 1989 13th Member - Cragar 4 Second Club (4.981)
  • 1990 Hot Rod Magazine - Person of the Year
  • 1990 September 13, Reading, PA, Darrell Gwynn Day
  • 1991 NHRA Good Hand Award
  • 1991 April 23, Florida Senate Resolution #1950
  • 1994 Inducted into the NHRA Southeast Division Hall of Fame
  • 1997 Great Sports Legend - Miami Project to Cure Paralysis
  • 1999 Gwynn Family - Ollie Award Winners, Car Craft Magazine
  • 2001 Voted NHRA Top 50 Drivers of All Time (#32)
  • 2002 Inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame
  • 2002 Golden Pioneer Award - North Miami Sr. High School Class of 1979
  • 2009 Grand Marshall, NHRA Hot Rod Reunion
  • 2009 NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2017 Greater Miami Sports Hall Of Champions

Award Ceremony

NHRA Official Records

  • Class - MPH - ET - Date - Place
  • TAD - 213.77 - 6.53 - 5/9/82 - Edgewater Sports Park
  • TF - 5.342 - 9/1/86 - Indianapolis, IN
  • TF - 278.55 - 5.261 - 9/25/86 - Ennis, Texas
  • TF - 5.220 - 3/22/87 - Gainesville, FL
  • TF - 5.204 - 4/25/87 - Commerce, GA
  • TF - 5.084 - 10/2/87 - Ennis, TX
  • TF - 5.052 - 8/6/88 - Seattle, WA
  • TF - 4.981 - 9/2/89 - Indianapolis, IN
  • TF - 4.951 - 9/17/89 - Maple Grove, PA
  • TF - 4.909 - 3/30/90 - Houston, TX

IHRA Official Records

  • Class - MPH - ET - Date - Place
  • TF - 261.62 - 5.396 - 5/3/87 - Rockingham, NC

Career Wins As an Owner

  • 15 (Through November 2002)
  • Mike Dunn - 12
  • Michael Brotherton - 1
  • Frank Hawley - 2

Business Affiliations

  • Vice President, Gwynn Enterprises
  • Director, Darrell Gwynn Quality of Life Chapter of The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis
  • President, Darrell Gwynn Racing Collectibles