TNGP Notes: A Good Trip For Darland
PERRIS, Calif. — Popular Dave Darland made another profitable visit to the half-mile clay Perris Auto Speedway on Thanksgiving evening.
The four-time USAC national champion is known as “the people’s champ” by thousands of fans nationwide. The 47-year-old Hoosier started the 73rd running of the USAC Honda National and Western Series Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix sixth. He was one of three race leaders and a surprised winner. The unique 98-lap distance honors the late USAC race organizer J. C. Agajanian, who in 1955 revived the classic TNGP midget event that started in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium in Hollywood.
Darland won $6,000 from the $44,000 purse to add to the $15,000 winner’s share of the 18th annual PAS Sprint Car Oval Nationals 40-lap feature Nov. 2. His winning midget ride Thursday was the No. 73 Berry Pack/Fontana Automotive TCR/Fontana owned by Ventura County residents Keith Ford and George Ito.
Darland led twice from laps 50-81 and 95-98 and won his second TNGP by 0.823. He became the third driver to win the TNGP on both dirt and pavement. He won his initial TNGP at the paved half-mile Irwindale Speedway in 2007, the first year the event was 98 laps instead of the usual 100. Mel Kenyon won at Gardena’s Ascot Park in 1963 and at Irwindale’s paved Speedway 605 in 1975. Stan Fox won in Ascot’s final race (1990) and at paved Saugus Speedway in 1991.
• On his cool-off lap, winner Darland spun celebratory donuts at the fourth turn exit until his car tipped onto its side. The winner walked to victory ceremonies as crewmen pushed his car to join him at the finish line.
“I had a good feeling today. This team gave me a good race car here and over at Canyon Speedway in Arizona two weeks ago,” Darland said. “The race track was in great shape with a couple of grooves. I tried to do restarts right and did at times. Thanks to Keith Ford, Josh Ford and crew chief Jimmy May and to Don Kazarian for the track and the Agajanians. I’m happy to get this team their first Turkey Night win.
“It wasn’t easy, there were a lot of restarts. It looked like the 4 car of Bobby East had it won (someone told him it was Gardner). We were lucky to get past him when he broke. It was the break we needed. The race track was really racy early. You could run high, low or in the middle. Then the top got better than the center. I was in the right spot to realize it and get the better of them. A few restarts I got right and some I didn’t. I get around this place good. I love Perris. I’m glad the Turkey Night GP is back on dirt. Now I have one on pavement at Irwindale and one on dirt here.”
Later “Double D” continued the year-old TNGP tradition of kissing J. C. Agajanian’s bronzed Stetson hat atop the perpetual Aggie Trophy.
• Brad Sweet finished second.
“It was a good race. The track changed a lot in 98 laps,” he explained. “We brought a new Breka chassis, Esslinger motor and factory shocks. This car was a bare frame four days ago and to bring it home second feels great. With Willie Kahne and Gary Zarounian and my old USAC crew it was good to be back together. I started on the bottom and moved to the top. I started too tight and gave up too much at the start.”