All-Star Softball Match Set Tone For Gwynn’s Foundation
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published Oct. 5, 2010.
Twenty years ago the auto-racing community came together to help one of its own — and the result was an emotional night that those in attendance will never forget.
More than 11,000 people jammed Reading (Pa.) Municipal Stadium Sept. 13, 1990, for the Darrell Gwynn Benefit Softball Challenge. The game, which saw the stars of NASCAR take the field against NHRA’s Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers, was organized to raise money for injured NHRA driver Darrell Gwynn.
“It was such a magical, magical night in so many respects,” Gwynn said recently while reflecting on that special event. “The outpouring of support, the passion everybody had to make this thing happen, the line of people waiting to get into the stadium when I pulled in, there isn’t just one thing that stands out.
“It was very, very overwhelming. It was something you could never imagine could happen,” Gwynn continued. “I still have people come up to me, I don’t even know them, but they will come up and say, ‘Darrell, I was at the ball game.’ It’s like they don’t have to say anymore. Everybody felt the same way about that game. Yeah, it was for me, but I think it was something that everybody who was there will never forget. It was the ultimate show of support and I never dreamed I would need that kind of support.”
A native of Miami, Gwynn was a second-generation drag racer known throughout the paddock as “The Kid.” He honed his skills in Top Alcohol dragsters where he won the 1983 NHRA World Championship before advancing to the sport’s premier division — Top Fuel — in 1985.
Gwynn was on top of his game during the early months of the 1990 NHRA Top Fuel season. He won the fourth race of the year at his home track in Gainesville, Fla., and was second in points when he headed to England’s Santa Pod Raceway for an exhibition event on Easter Sunday.
That’s when disaster struck.
During his first pass, Gwynn’s dragster suddenly broke and veered left into the retaining wall at approximately 240 miles per hour. The then 28-year-old racer suffered life-threatening injuries that took his left arm and left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Members of the racing community immediately rallied to the aid of their fallen competitor.
“The support I received was unbelievable,” Gwynn recalled about the days and months following his accident. “I was never alone, not once, in my hospital room. I never had a chance to cry. There was always somebody in my room, but it was uplifting. It was talking about racing and it was doing this and doing that. It was just constant support and it could have been considerably different if those people weren’t there.”