The Monster Smile

I was conspicuously out of my natural element. I was a professional NHRA drag racer by trade. Earned a living by going very, very quickly in a straight line. Now, 28 years after a 250 mph crash cost me an arm and the ability to walk, I shockingly found myself suited up and driving a NASCAR stock car, of all things.

We racecar drivers are an odd lot. No matter which discipline in which we ply our trade, there is a shared mutual respect among those who earn their keep competing behind the wheel. In this case, it was another of my driving brethren, reigning Monster Energy Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., who paced the way for this opportunity of a lifetime. You see, Martin and I share more than just a love of racing. IN addition to being fishing fanatics promoting Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's, and Tracker Boats, we both are strongly committed to helping our fellow man, including but not limited to those like myself who are afflicted by spinal cord paralysis.

Martin's team, Furniture Row Racing, has an unbelievable partnership with Dr. Scott Falci and Falci Adaptive Motorsports, an innovative purveyor of adaptive technology that allows paralyzed people to operate a racecar controlled by head movements and use of a breathing tube that controls acceleration and braking. Scott and his team did an unbelievable job from the get-go.

 

On Thursday, October 4, the Furniture Row Racing team presented a specially modified version of Truex's No. 78 Monster Energy Cup Toyota Camry to the pit area of Delaware's legendary Dover International Speedway "Monster Mile." Their quest to allow a collection of folks with disabilities, myself included, to drive a full-race stock car in anger. Our moonlighting driver instructor was none other than Regan Smith, a regular on the NASCAR Cup tour. Us guest hot-shoes would do our driving from a specially crafted passenger compartment with Regan "riding shotgun" in the traditional driver's seat, retaining normal control of the car if necessary.

It was a full morning of men and women taking their turns at the controls of the 850-horsepower steed. Eventually, it was my turn.

The process of getting me loaded in was neither swift nor graceful. I was fully duded up in a proper fire suit, helmet, and belt restraints. It was more than awkward to remember that my head turns would steer the car, a puff on the tube would give it gas, and a sip on the tube would clamp the brakes.

Adding to the novelty of the moment was my personal pit crew consisting of my dad and career crew chief Jerry, lifelong friend Tony Mills, and Mike Dunn, my former driver and one of the most versatile and successful nitro funny car and Top Fuel wheelmen in history.

Darryl Gwynn, front row second from right, with fellow guest drivers and Furniture Row Racing team members

I didn't set any speed records on my lap, but the crackling motor was music to my ears. The transition from the smooth apron up onto the banked turns was jarry and left no doubt as to why this tough little oval circuit has earned the name and reputation as the Monster Mile. It ended much too soon. Despite Regan's comforting presence, some computer glitches in the intricate hardware cut my time short. When I finally rumbled back into the pits, the grin on my face was immutable; a monster smile at the Monster Mile! I will never forget the adventure and the opportunity to advance the technology to allow paralyzed citizens to someday drive and even race.

WOW WHAT A RIDE AND DRIVE!

About the Author

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.

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.

Darrell's ride is a QUICKIE QM-710.

Most of the stories here on Live Quickie were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.


Date: 10/16/2018 12:00:00 AM


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