GAYLORD, Mich. — A steady rumble of applause generally accompanies Dave Darland’s Steve and Carla Phillips’ black No. 71p when it hits the track in USAC sprint car competition. But that’s standard procedure for the driver known the “People’s Champ.”
For more than 30 years Darland has been a fierce competitor in all three of USACs open-wheel divisions, but through a multitude of crown jewel victories and four USAC national titles, Darland has remained a fan favorite with his ever ready smile. His relaxed and humble personality belies his achievements, and his willingness to greet anyone who crosses his path has earned him his moniker. Darland truly is the champion of every open-wheel racing fan, mainly because he is a fan himself.
Not only is Darland a racer, he truly loves the sport and has since early childhood. Growing up in Kokomo, Ind., there wasn’t a summer night that passed that open-wheel racing wasn’t in the air, whether the gates on the track were locked tight or the weekend glow of lights and dust were in the air. Kokomo is synonymous with sprint car racing and Darland learned from a young age what open-wheel racing was all about.
“My dad Bob got me started in racing as a kid,” grinned Darland. “He never did drive himself, but was always a fan and got me into quarter midgets when I was a ki,d so he is the one to blame for all of this.”
Darland competed in quarter midgets throughout his youth honing his skills. “Luckily for me growing up and racing with the Kokomo Quarter Midget club, we raced on Thursday nights, which meant we got to go to a lot of sprint car races on Friday and Saturdays,” exclaimed Darland.
Like his dad, Darland believes that quarter midget racing is a great path for a young driver to take, “It is cool to have quarter midget tracks at some of the bigger facilities like Eldora Speedway now,” Darland said. “Having the kids so close to sprint car racing, hopefully, leads to those kids being involved in sprint car racing for their entire lives.”
After gaining experience and knowledge in the quarter midget ranks, Darland moved into a sprint car at age 16 and for the past 30 years he has been an integral part of Midwest open-wheel competition. And although Darland has had incredible success in the Silver Crown series in which he has one USAC championship to his credit and the midget division where he is a two-time national champion, Darland is still strongly tied to his sprint car racing roots.