From Jay Hardin
It’s almost a shame Dave Darland wasn’t born in 1936 instead of 1966. Had he come into this world 30 years earlier and followed the same career path he would have three sterling silver Wolcott Cups to his credit and be seeking a fourth. Unfortunately, the supply of the Wolcott Cups given to the Hoosier Hundred winner ran out in the early 1980’s but Dave Darland’s pursuit of a fourth Hoosier Hundred trophy continues as the 43 year old from Kokomo, Indiana teams again with Galen Fox at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on May 28. The Darland-Fox combo has won three times at Springfield, four times on the Indy mile and set a track record at DuQuoin. It’s a pairing that almost never happened.
Fox had wrenched USAC Silver Crown dirt cars for standouts such as Chuck Gurney, Sheldon Kinser and Steve Chassey in the past and took over ownership of the 56 machines when long time owner Dick Hammond departed. Gurney left Fox after the 1994 season and rumors flew as to who might occupy the seat in the Beast chassis which took victories at Springfield and DuQuoin the year before. One name mentioned that caught the interest of race fans was Steve Kinser who later stated he would not be in the car.
Dave Darland was 28 years old and had been a terror on central Indiana tracks when a ride in Fox’s famous number 56 came open. He’d won numerous times at venues such as Kokomo, Putnamville and Bloomington and had taken the family sprint car into victory lane in the prestigious Tony Hulman Classic at Terre Haute. Valvoline gave Dave his first major sponsor and auto racing writers gushed over his ability and talent. Yet it did not seem that he was destined to become a national star.
Darland made his ‘big car’ debut at Eldora in 1990 and bounced around in different equipment in USAC’s top tier series taking rides periodically Frank and Jane Faroute. In 1994 Dave secured a ride with the legendary Gus “Digger” Sohm out of St. Louis and finished 11th in the Tony Bettenhausen 100 at Springfield and 14th in the Ted Horn 100 at DuQuoin. Fans wondered why Darland wasn’t snatched up by a top flight USAC Silver Crown car owner and it was certain that Dave and his father didn’t have the funding to buy Dave first class Silver Crown equipment.
Galen Fox decided to take a chance on the somewhat unproven Darland in 1995. While Darland was a standout on the bullrings and half miles that the USAC Sprint Cars and Midgets competed on, he had yet to show the kind of ability in the heavy cars that the long races on the big miles required. When the announcement came that Darland would be in the legendary 56 machine many thought that it was about time that Darland be given a chance to show what he could do in one of the championship machines.
Dave’s debut on May 26, 1995 for the Foxco team was in the Hulman 100 set two nights before the Indianapolis 500. Adding to the pressure of driving for Galen Fox would be the number of Indy Car people and celebrities who would be wandering around the grounds and the large grandstand crowd, plus the fact that the promoter of the event was none other than six time Hoosier Hundred winner A.J. Foyt.
Fox’s team parked and pitted toward the west end of the pit area not far from Foyt’s own dirt car coowned with driver George Snider. Darland faced stiff competition this May evening from defending USAC champ and 1994 Hulman winner Jimmy Sills, up and comers Kenny Irwin Jr. and Tony Stewart as well as veterans Tony Elliot, Jack Hewitt and Ron Shuman. Darland quickly showed why Fox had faith in the hire becoming one of the faster cars in practice and then setting quick time for the evening on the tricky mile surface of over 105 miles an hour..
Fellow Hoosier Eric Gordon qualified second, with Kevin 1-luntley third and Shuman fourth. Gurney put Fred Ede’s car in the twelve spot with Indy vet Johnny Parsons seventeenth. Hewitt had to run the last chance race as did George Snider. Hewitt Won it with Stewart barely making the show after a ninth place finish.
When the green flag came out Dave immediately shot the blue and red 56 for the inside rail and stayed there trying to keep the car as straight as possible and not wear out the tires while the fuel load burned off. The strategy was simple, set a nice pace for 50 miles and keep the tires under you and have something left for the last 50.
Eric Gordon actually beat the blue car into the first corner and swept around the outside of Darland and led the first 33 miles as Darland kept Gordon in sight. As the field completed the 34th circuit disaster struck as Gordon’s machine lost and engine and Darland motored into the lead, taking the top slot in a Silver Crown event and on a mile for the first time in his career. Darland motored in the lead for 67 miles to take the biggest win of his career.
When the Hoosier Hundred came around in September Darland had become not only a favorite to win the most prestigious dirt track event on the Silver Crown schedule but a contender for the national title as well. Dave didn’t disappoint his legions of fans that Saturday night of Labor Day weekend in 1995 timing sixth and taking the lead at halfway capturing over $24,000 for his first Hoosier Hundred win. He repeated in 1996 making Darland one of the few who have won three consecutive dirt car races at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Near misses came in 1999 and 2009 with a third Hoosier Hundred win coming in in 2004. If Dave Darland can win the 100-mile classic Friday night he can join A.J. Foyt and Al Unser as the only drivers to win four or more Hoosier Hundred races. Even if Dave falls short he has established himself as a legend in the big cars at the Indiana State Farigrounds. Darland has four total Silver Crown wins in Indianapolis and is seventh on the all-time money won list at the Hoosier Hundred.
Darland’s quest begins Friday night at 5 p.m. with practice for the USAC Silver Crown Series and the Hoosier Hundred is slated for approximately 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the Indiana State Fairgrounds or by calling 217-764-3200.