Intense is one word that can most accurately describe the driving style of Michigan sprint-car racer Dustin Daggett.
That intensity has earned Daggett the respect of his competitors and the adoration of fans. While most sprint-car drivers in their 20s are seeking a feature victory or fighting for a championship, Daggett has his sights set on topping the ASCS Sprints on Dirt all-time winners list.
With 71 SoD triumphs already to his credit, Daggett is tied with Hank Lower at the top of the list.
Since his career began in 1999, Daggett has had no problems finding his way to victory lane, winning his first heat at age 16 and capturing a SoD victory the following year.
Over the past 10 years Daggett has grown as a driver, winning two SoD championships (2003-2004), numerous NRA Sprint Invaders features, one All-Star Circuit of Champions event and a United Sprint Car Series race.
This year the Mott Racing No. 2m team has ramped up its 410 program and already Daggett has made his mark by winning an Interstate Racing Ass’n show and posting some great finishes at Ohio’s Fremont Speedway and Attica Raceway Park.
The third-generation driver got initiated into the world of sprint-car racing at a very young age.
“My parents used to strap my car seat to the grandstands and wake me up when my dad (Mike Daggett) or my grandpa (Don Daggett) would be out racing,” Daggett explained. “I didn’t start out in a go-kart or anything like that. Instead I learned by working on the family cars and then we pulled parts and pieces we had lying around and built a car for me to start racing 360s.”
Still a couple of years away from his 30th birthday, Daggett is already viewed as one of the sport’s veteran drivers.
Drawing experience and knowledge from his the family patriarchs was one thing, but getting their praise was another.
“They were pretty hard on me,” Daggett said. “They would come up to me after we came in and tell me everything I had done wrong, which was a lot of stuff when I started.”
At 16, the youngest Daggett may not have fully appreciated the lessons, but the experiences of being able to race against his dad and grandfather are memories that are priceless.
One of his greatest memories came early on in his career when he battled it out with his father for the win at Crystal Motor Speedway in Michigan. Dustin took home the honors and being trailed to the line by his mentor made the victory sweeter.
Although Daggett was turning wrenches on a sprint car before most kids had discovered Hot Wheels toys, he is certainly not a duplication of his forefathers on the track. His rim-riding style is exciting and unlike his more conservative father.
He believes the difference is due primarily to his family’s prior racing experience.
“I race quite a bit differently than my dad and I think a lot of that has to do with my dad and grandpa’s background in stock cars,” the younger Daggett explained. “Both had raced late models and modifieds and I have never raced without a wing. The wing has a lot to do with the way the car works and I make sure I use it. The best advice I ever received was, ‘Go where they are not because you can’t pass someone if you are following them,’ so as long as the top side can hold me that’s where I typically will be.”
Daggett has proven himself to be a contender on all types of dirt tracks, but his talent really shows through on the fast half miles.
“One of the reasons I think I run so well on the bigger tracks is because I can keep my momentum up. I don’t often break my speed, which is something that I have really worked on a lot over the years. I figure the less I slow down, the faster I go.”
Tracks with outside retaining walls also provide an advantage for the hard-charging Daggett, who unlike most of his competitors enjoys running right next to the wall. “My theory is…the closer you run to the wall the less it hurts when you hit it.”
Daggett’s theories certainly work to his advantage. He was undefeated at Michigan’s I-96 Speedway for two-straight seasons and has a long list of wins at Hartford (Mich.) Motor Speedway where he had captured an All Star Circuit of Champions event in 2004. That memory is one that Daggett will forever remember.
“That was such an exciting time and the whole adrenaline rush of knowing that I had just beat a bunch of guys that raced for a living was pretty awesome,” he said.
Without making ties to any particular series this season, Daggett and the Mott team have focused on tackling new challenges, new speedways and competing at as many All Star and World of Outlaws events as possible.
For Daggett, the excitement of this year has stretched beyond the track. In 2009, he and fiancée Amanda Lienhart welcomed their daughter Madison into the world. A machinist at Hurless Machine in Hastings, Mich., by day, Daggett spends his evenings enjoying family life.
“Madison has gotten to the age where it’s just cool to watch her grow and learn,” Daggett said. “She already likes racing, sitting in the race car, and riding on the four-wheeler, so Grandpa is already talking about quarter midgets.”
Before too long the world of auto racing may just see a fourth-generation Daggett in victory lane, with a very proud father looking on.