GWYNN CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY BEHIND
by Susan Wade. Photos by Jeff Burk
Darrell Gwynn, who won the NHRA's U.S. Nationals Top Fuel title in
1989, was among the former champions to return to the Indianapolis Raceway
Park quarter-mile Friday. During Funny Car and Top Fuel qualifying,
the owner of Mike Dunn's New York Yankees Dragster was behind the wheel
for the first time since the Easter Sunday accident in 1990 that left
him paralyzed and a partial amputee.
With Michael Bolton's "Back On My Feet Again" playing on the public-address
system and a kiss and "Good luck, Daddy" sendoff from daughter Katie,
Gwynn motored down the track at 37.27 miles an hour.
"I think my racing days are over till I'm walking again," Gwynn said,
"but that was a pretty cool alternative. The car doesn't make any noise,
so all I could hear was the people. It was pretty cool.
"The car goes faster, but I wasn't about to take that chance."
Gwynn has partnered with Sunrise Medical and Quickie Design to provide
specially powered wheelchairs to patients with spinal-cord injuries
at select NHRA venues this year. But Friday it was his turn to receive,
as friends treated him to his triumphant return to celebrate his 40th
The Super Comp-styled dragster, a one-of-a-kind hybrid between a rear-engine
dragster and an electric golf cart, was a surprise gift that former
Gwynn Racing employee Mike Gerry and Jeff Whittle, of Las Vegas, built.
It's equipped with a customized hand-controlled throttle, steering and
braking unit and powered by six eight-volt batteries. The detachable
roll bar is all that keeps it from passing NHRA safety specs.
Gerry, the project designer, helped build some of Gwynn's first chassis,
including the "Miami Vise" dragster from the 1980s. "He's been such
an inspiration to so many people we decided to give him the best 40th
birthday present possible, and that is a chance to make another quarter-mile
pass down IRP during the U.S. Nationals."
"I had no idea this was taking place. It was a total secret," Gwynn
said. "I can't begin to tell you how much it means."
The car's speed output is a stark contrast to Dunn's 6,000-horsepower
machine that owns the NHRA's fastest pass at 331.61 mph. But speed wasn't
the issue Friday. "The fact that it (went) really slow is irrelevant,"
Gwynn's father, Jerry, also a former NHRA champion. "Just the idea
of going past those filled grandstands is what it's all about."
There wasn't a dry eye in the house on that lap.
'BIG' AND SHIRLEY IN NHRA COMPETITION AGAIN
Don Garlits, 69, drove his Matco Tools dragster to a planned half-track
shut-off run of 5.322 at 190.46 on Friday. It was the eight-time U.S.
Nationals winner's first NHRA event as a driver since 1992.
Shirley Muldowney turned in a 4.647/319.98, putting her in 8th place
at the end of Friday's qualifying.