Racing has always been a major part of David Darnell’s life. He grew up following his oldest brother, Butch, take on the likes of racing legends Ralph Earnhardt and David Pearson at Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.
“Just running along beside of him in the pits all my early life, I’ve just always had a love for it,” Darnell said.
Once Darnell was old enough, he and his other brother, Wayne, built a mini stock car and found a home at Anderson Motor Speedway, a 0.375-mile NASCAR Whelen All-American Series asphalt oval track in Williamston, South Carolina. Darnell has been a regular at Anderson since 1991, where he’s won five track championships in the mini stock division. But in 2017 his racing career was nearly ended by a work accident.
Darnell does residential construction, and was working in a fourth floor attic when a misstep caused him to fall 27 feet into an open foyer. He suffered multiple broken ribs that had to be surgically repaired with metal, and a broken left shoulder that had to be totally reconstructed. The trauma of the fall had doctors fearing the worst for Darnell, but once he began healing he shocked everyone.
“Once they woke me up evidently I wasn’t in as bad a shape as they thought I was,” he said. “It was just a miracle once they woke me up I was in as good a shape as I was. It was just a blessing from the lord.”
Doctors originally said it would take Darnell a year and a half to two years to get back to work, and ever getting back in the race car was questionable, at best.
Two months after the accident Darnell shocked everyone again, getting into the race car for the first time. He had the doctors assure him that anything that had been surgically fixed could be fixed again should anything happen, and left the decision up to his three children and five grandchildren, who are a big part of his race career.
While he said there was a lot of pain getting into the car for the first time, he knew it was something he needed to do to continue his healing process.
“I jumped right back in the race car,” he said. “My coordination and balance and stuff like that I had a question about it but it was just like once I got back in and strapped in and got out there it was like being right back in the office. It wasn’t anything to it at all so I’m really blessed and lucky to be able to do that.
“Just part of not going to quit. I know if you sit down and quit with issues like that, that’s when you find yourself sitting for a while. I just had to get going and get back at it, and the race car was a lot of my therapy.”
The very first race back, Darnell led 17 of the 20 laps before blowing an engine.
This season, Darnell and his team are fifth in the points in the asphalt mini stocks division at Anderson, with three wins and seven top 5 finishes. He got a later start to the season, missing the first two races after having surgery to remove his gall bladder.
While Darnell has had a chance to try other race divisions in his 28 year career, he’s always stuck with mini stocks. The lower cost is a big reason, and Darnell said the mini stock division at Anderson is just as competitive as any other series, and he’s also able to help young drivers there more too.
“There’s always a really good car count in the mini stock division and just so competitive there,” he said. “If you can compete at Anderson in the Top 3 then you can go about anywhere you want to go and compete. We have local drivers that go and they win or compete for the win everywhere they go. We’ve turned out some really great young drivers who compete in late models.
“It’s called mini stocks but its really a mini late model series because you really have to be at the top of your game.”
Darnell has developed a passion for helping young up-and-comers at Anderson, loaning them parts and pieces, and helping them get good deals on others, while also offering advice anytime he can.
“Just any knowledge I have of the race car, any way I can help them at all they know I’m always a phone call away,” Darnell said. “Just trying to see that they’re getting enough out of it that they’ll keep the interest in it. If it becomes aggravating or they lose the desire then they’ll quit. So just trying to keep those younger guys the desire there and they can see a little better each week or something to keep them there is a big part of what I get out of those young guys.”
Darnell knows the importance of helping others because he receives so much help himself. He mentioned Randy Smith at Smith Race Engine, Kendall Griffin at G Engineering, Farrow Holloway at Holloway Race Engine, Ray Moore at Ray Moore Race engines, and John Poyer at Poyer Carburetors as huge parts of his career.
“Nobody does this by themselves.With all the help I have if I wasn’t winning races I shouldn’t have a race car,” he said. “All those guys support me, help in any way. Any time I call they’re right on what I need. So it’s that kind of support you have to have to compete and win at Anderson so I appreciate all their help.”
While Darnell said the missed races at the start of the season has his team out of the mini stock points chase at Anderson, his hope is they can continue to have good races, win the ones they can, and continue to appreciate the chance to get in the car week after week.
“It’s just like going to family on a Friday night,” he said.
NASCAR racing will return to Anderson Motor Speedway Friday night for Late Model Twin 40s/FWD Dash for Cash, featuring Late Models, Asphalt Mini Stocks, US Legends, Front Wheel Drive, and Asphalt Pure Stock.