2022 Dsc 1966 Nssn Dave Darland Usac Lps 7 1 2022 Nearpass Photo
Dave Darland shown last summer at Lincoln Park Speedway. (Dave Nearpass photo)

Dave Darland Forges Ahead

The morning of April 23, 2021, started like any other day. Brenda Darland, who serves as assistant to the president at Dickinson Fleet Services, was preparing to leave for work.

Later, she recalled being a bit surprised that her husband, Dave, was still asleep. While this wasn’t his normal pattern there seemed to be no cause for concern. There would be time to catch up later in the day.

Dave was scheduled to race a sprint car at Bloomington Speedway that evening and she knew he would check in as he headed south. They would also be reunited later as Brenda had already planned to attend the race in the company of the couple’s two daughters.

This was a familiar pattern for the Darlands. Certainly, there is comfort in routine. It provides a sense that our lives are predictable and subject to our control.

Dave Darland (left) with USAC legend Tom Bigelow in 2014. (John Mahoney photo)

As the sun fell deeper in the western sky members of Dave Darland’s racing team were getting anxious. Where was their driver? At this point Brenda Darland was unaware of the mounting apprehension. One telephone call was all it took to understand that something was very wrong.

It was standard procedure for Brenda to let Dave know when she was on her way to the race track and shortly after he answered she noticed that her husband sounded rushed. When she asked if everything was OK, he admitted that he was running late. Soon thereafter the first clues of trouble were revealed. When asked where he was Dave muttered something about being on Interstate 65. That made no sense. When pressed further he changed his story and reported he was on U.S. 31. This wasn’t encouraging.

“I asked him if he was OK and he said he wasn’t feeling all that well. I told him if he was on 31, he wasn’t going to make it on time. He said he would be fine because he was just going to Putnamville (Lincoln Park Speedway). That’s when I told him to pull over.”

As she continued to talk to her husband, it was clear that he was very confused. When pressed again about his location, Dave told his wife that he “was where she was.” Trying her best to wade through that jumbled logic, Brenda surmised that perhaps he had gone to her office on the Northside of Indianapolis.

Adding to the drama Dave was unable to properly operate his phone and was constantly calling but hanging up. Brenda hustled to her office, but her husband was nowhere in sight. Now she was frantic and began searching the area when one of the children screamed out, “Oh my God, there’s dad.”

Darland had pulled into a Target parking lot and had settled in a spot where one could easily spy him from the road. When Brenda reached him, Dave was quickly put in the car and driven straight to the emergency room at nearby St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The first diagnosis was adult amnesia, but further tests revealed he had suffered a mild stroke. Because his wife had acted quickly, the doctors felt that the damage was minimized.

Today, Darland says it took “a couple of months and I was back to normal.” Offering a more realistic perspective Brenda observed, “His recovery is ongoing. Sometimes it takes a minute. He knows what he wants to say but sometimes it takes a while for him to get it out. But when it comes to racing you can’t tell, and if you don’t know him you don’t see it.”

Racing had been the center of Dave Darland’s life since he was a boy. By this point he was one of the most decorated racers of his age. He was the third member of USAC’s prestigious Triple Crown club and was already a member of several Halls of Fame. In Indiana, he had snared multiple track championships and brought a legion of fans along for the ride. It is fair to suggest he is beloved by nearly everyone he has touched. In essence this made Darland’s plight a very public matter. There were those who couldn’t wait to see Darland back behind the wheel and others that prayed he would simply walk away.

The choice here was far more complicated than it seemed. Darland’s recovery would not be aided by inactivity. Emotional well-being promotes healing, while sitting and brooding breeds depression. Regardless, at this point in the story any conversation about a comeback was premature. Because of his condition blood-thinning medication was required and the possible ramifications of suffering an accident were dire.