10 Questions with Darrell Gwynn

Interviewed by Al Heisley May 10, 2022
Photos courtesy of Darrell Gwynn

DW: Darrell, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s a privilege to have you participate. Let’s start with telling the readers about your early days of racing with your dad, Jerry. Before you got behind the wheel yourself. 

DG: Racing with my dad was awesome! Back in the 60s and 70s, we were all just racing Carneys, going from track to track all over the Southeast US and up and down the coast from Friday to Sunday match racing. And driving all night to get from one place to the next to make $600 or $800 here $1000 there. We did whatever we had to do to make a buck to travel to national events and be competitive. 

NDW: Your dad raced alcohol funny cars. Why didn’t you in the early days? 

DG: I got my license in an AA/Altered and my dad’s Baby Huey BB/FC. It was all good until the 1980 Summer Nationals in Englishtown, where we blew a couple of motors, and we were also out of parts and money. But, as luck would have it, a friend around the corner had a complete alcohol dragster with a trailer. It had a Donovan engine which we sold along with most of our parts and a trailer. We bought a Ken Veney combination and put it together with our money from selling everything. At the time, I had never raced a dragster, but we went to the US nationals in Indianapolis, IN, anyway, and I got a runner-up to Billy Williams. And that’s basically how my career got a jump start.

NDW: When you were old enough to take over the controls yourself, your career took off like a rocket. How many Top/Alcohol Dragster wins did you have before turning to Top/Fuel, and how many Top Fuel wins did you have both as a driver and then as an owner?

DG: I had ten wins in the Top/Alcohol Dragster, 3 Divisional titles, and a Championship in 1983. I then had 18 Top/Fuel Dragster wins as a driver and another 15 Top/Fuel Dragster wins as an owner. 

NDW: Where did “The Kid” moniker come from? 

DG: First, you have to remember most everybody that I was racing against was about 5 to 10 years older than I was, so I was a kid, but a good friend named Dave Clark ( RIP )gave me that nickname when we used to race against him back in the 80s. 

NDW: In 1990, you almost lost your life in an exhibitor race at Santa Pod in England. Since that time, you’ve stayed close to your drag racing roots, the sport you love. What has this sport given you before Santa Pod, and most importantly, since? 

DG: I’m a drag racer at heart, I grew up around it, and it’s all I know. It has taught me a lot about life, common sense, teamwork, marketing, branding, etc. I’d probably be an old truck driver driving around somewhere if I weren’t drag racing. 

NDW: Tell our readers about The Darrell Gwynn Foundation and what they can do to help make a difference? 

DG: The Darrell Gwynn Foundation has now merged with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and the Buoniconti fund also in Miami. It made sense for my foundation to do that after trying to run it myself through the years. It had become like having a race team requiring my time 24/7. Since then, we’ve made great strides at the Miami Project, and we recently opened the Christine El Lynne Rehabilitation Center.  

NDW: You’ve accomplished a lot during your life and career. What are the things you are most proud of? 

DG: I think the things that have made me the proudest now that I’m 60 years old are the life lessons I’ve learned. The common sense I’ve gathered since I was driving a tractor-trailer when I was 19 years old across the Canadian border with my 18-year-old girlfriend and a 14-year-old Chris Cunningham on our way to the Molson Grand Nationals. I have lived a great life, and I’ll never forget those memories. They taught me a lot about life. 

NDW: Your family has always been close and supportive of everything you’ve done. What about them? What are they doing in their own lives? 

DG: My mom and dad have been the greatest! They’ve been with me every step of the way. Even when we said we couldn’t afford to do something, we still figured out how to do it. I can’t thank them enough for the education that they gave me and the morals and ethics and common sense and respect. 

NDW: Do you see yourself owning another team in the future? 

DG: My team owner days are over. However, I’m still very interested in the mechanics of the sport. 

NDW: You’ve been interviewed many times over the years. What is something you’ve never asked that you’d like our readers to know about you, your family, faith, racing, or anything else? 

DG: All I can say is follow your passion, not a paycheck. I know it’s more difficult these days to get started than it was back when we got started.  But I can tell you the ingredients are still the same: Hard work, dedication, and passion. 

Darrell, thanks again. We appreciate you and everything you shared.