It was yet another year with new surroundings for Dave Darland in 2013. “The People’s Champ,” as he has become affectionately known, came off a six-win runner-up season with Jeff Walker Racing in 2012 and had to find a new home.
That came in the form of Phillips Motorsports, with owners Steve & Carla Phillips still looking for their first USAC win. After nearly delivering that win in the first race of the season in Ocala, Florida after a frenzied battle with Bryan Clauson, the collaboration celebrated in victory lane at Bloomington (IN) Speedway’s “Larry Rice Classic” in May with their first victory.
They picked up steam as the season progressed, trading blows with Clauson and his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team as the championship hung in the balance. Although Darland and the #71P fell short of the title, they picked up six more wins, including some of the biggest on the schedule in the Kokomo (IN) “Sprint Car Smackdown” and the year-ending “Oval Nationals” in Perris, California.
“It was an incredible year that makes us look back and say ‘Wow, did we really do that?’ Our goal at the start of the year was to win a race and keep ourselves in the top-ten. To win like that and take such big events, it was just a lot of fun. We better enjoy this, because it’s hard to have a season like that and who knows if it will happen again,” Steve Phillips said.
Not only did the combination finish as the AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship runner-up, both sides received other accolades. Steve Phillips garnered the “Crew Chief of the Year” award while Darland was named the first winner of the “Jason Leffler Award,” an honor bestowed on the Lincoln, Indiana native for his appreciation of the sport’s history and his representation of the sport, much in the same way as Leffler.
“Jason was a great race car driver and a great person, so it was really meaningful to be the first recipient of that award. I enjoy open-wheel racing and try to do the best I can. He was younger than me, but we grew up together in a way, racing on the same teams and whatnot. It feels good to have so many friends and fans and have people think of me like that,” Darland said, adding, “Last year was a lot of fun and a great accomplishment for us to do so well. Nobody expected that, probably not even us. It’s rewarding to have a season like that with our little team.”
Seven wins in 2013 have elevated Darland into rarified air, now sitting second all-time in National Sprint Car wins. The 47-year-old is just five behind leader Tom Bigelow, and has leapt two ahead of Tracy Hines as the two vie for the top of the charts. Darland also looks to make 2014 the 22nd consecutive year with a USAC National win, which would break a tie with A.J. Foyt and Mel Kenyon for the longest streak all-time.
“That’s never been the kind of thing I dwell on, but it’s cool to hear things like that when people talk about it. I’ve had a lot of great teams like the Phillips family that have helped me along the way. I’m looking forward to racing with them again and trying to win some more. We have a lot of fun and hopefully we can have some of the good luck we had last year,” Darland said.
Phillips Motorsports navigated last season’s schedule despite a lack of major sponsorship, and they continue to seek backing for the upcoming season. Steve Stroud of Racer’s Advantage Store in Phoenix returns to assist the team, as well as Frank Daigh, Surf-N-Sprint, Jockish Flowers, Ealey Trucking, BT Miller Farms, Maaco of Lafayette Road, Fatheadz Eyewear, Pallet Builders, Lucas Oil, Super Shox, Greene’s Truck & Auto, and Rod End Supply. They continue to use DRC Chassis and Foxco Engines.
“There were so many good things that happened to us last year – I never dreamed of winning “Crew Chief of the Year” and we finished second and won big races – the good thing is we left something on the table that we want. Now we can try harder to go after the championship this season. We have more drive than ever. There are lofty goals there, and we still just need to line up the funding to get us to the end. Carla and Brenda (Darland’s wife), especially, have worked really hard at that, and we just have to come up with some more help,” Steve Phillips said.
After a practice night on February 19th, the AMSOIL Sprint Car National Championship runs three consecutive nights at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida February 20-21-22. Advance tickets for “Winter Dirt Games V” are available at BubbaRacewayPark.com and additional information concerning an online pay-per-view of the event will be forthcoming at USACracing.com.