By Joe Buckles
It has often been said that racing is a young man’s sport.
A quick glance at the latest U.S. Auto Club race results and point rankings tends to offer a measure of credibility to such thinking.
With a talented group of newcomers that includes the likes of Cole Whitt, Brady Short, Chad Boat and Darren Hagen already making it to victory lane this season it would appear on the surface that the “old guard” of the USAC establishment would on the outside looking in these days.
And while the newcomers are grabbing their share of the limelight the old guard contingent doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to jump from the cockpit to a rocking chair any time soon.
Newly crowned Sumar Classic winner Dave Darland displayed in convincing fashion last Wednesday at the Action Track that there’s still a place for the “over the hill gang” in open wheel racing.
Darland continues to make believers out of those who entertain thoughts that the Lincoln competitor’s best driving days are behind him.
His local win was the second major victory in as many weeks, having won in the USAC Indiana Sprint Weeks show at Kokomo.
Now a five-time winner at the Action Track, Darland becomes the first driver ever to win the track’s triple crown of USAC events — Hulman Classic for sprints, Hut Hundred for midgets and Sumar for the Silver Crown machines.
In typical Darland form, the personable racer showed why he has the reputation of being a class act both on and off the track.
After greeting well-wishers and signing his share of autographs following the Sumar, Darland took time to share his thoughts on a variety of subjects that surround USAC racing.
Like the current trend which finds a host of youngsters in USAC making their way up the ladder by way of lucrative development programs initiated by several high-profile NASCAR teams.
He says the current movement is just a natural progression of racing and harbors no resentment to those who have made the most of the opportunities that never came his way.
“I’ve been driving sprint cars for 25 years. Things have changed from when I started racing,” explained Darland.
“Back when I was a 15- or 16-year-old kid they were looking for the next Parnelli Jones and A.J. Foyt. They knew how to drive a race car and won a lot of races. Now they want the kids that can bring money or someone they can develop into what they want them to be.”
“I was too young in the Foyt era and now in the Cole Whitt era I’m to old,” he said of the current day thinking of many stock and champ car owners.
“Things change. I can’t say it’s better or worse. It’s just different. I’ve just got to go with the times and try to keep up. It’s something you have to do to keep up with the sport,” voiced Darland.
Although he is just one month shy of his 42nd birthday, Darland says he has no trouble physically keeping up with the younger generation of racers.
“I don’t have any trouble staying up in the seat,” he said proudly. “Some race tracks are more physically rougher than others. Most of them I can handle. I’ve never lost a race by falling out of the saddle as they say.”
His pair of wins this season stretches his consecutive feature win streak in USAC racing to 16 years. His recent wins took on special meaning to the four-time USAC champion.
First, the Kokomo race was named in honor of his late father Bob Darland. Second, the Sumar because it has been one win that had always eluded him. Third, it is one of his favorite tracks.
“It always good to come back to Terre Haute. This is a famous old place. I just wish the old guardrails were still up,” said Darland.
He savors the checkered flags even more these days conceding they have become increasingly more difficult to come by. Like the one for the Sumar Classic.
“We’ve come close several times to winning this thing but just hadn’t been able to survive those 100 laps. To be able to join Kevin Thomas and Tony Elliott as Sumar Classic winners has made the night that more special.”
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• Special event — It will be a special day at Action City Dragway USA Saturday as the strip plays host to the 1st Annual Dallas Montgomery Memorial event.
A day long list of activities should provide plenty to do for those on and off the strip. Gates open at 9 a.m. and time trials get underway at noon.
Racing will include $2,500-to-win Super Pro and $1,300-to-win Pro payoffs plus a special Slammin’ 16 races.
In addition to the racing there will be a car show and silent auction with all proceeds going to the Racers, Christmas For Kids cause. This is a charitable program instituted by the late race promoter to benefit the underprivileged children of the Wabash Valley.
Joe Buckles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.