It was Easter Sunday 1990. The place, the Santa Pod Raceway in Bedford, England. Darrell Gwynn, known as The Kid on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) circuit revved his engine at the starting line, as he did dozens of times before. As the “Christmas Tree” lights counted down to green, tires screeched and billows of smoke trailed behind his golden dragster. But Darrell would not cross the finish line in victory that day, as he had so many times before.
Suddenly, at about mid-track, Darrell’s car swung left into the retaining wall traveling nearly 250mph. The crash left the then 28-year-old driver with one arm needing to be amputated, the other virtually useless, and paralyzed, to be forever confined to a wheelchair. And yet, where others faced with such devastating injuries could sink into despair and darkness, instead, Darrell stepped into the light.
“From the day I got hurt, I had so much support, so many people visiting me. Family, friends people all over the country flying to England to see me. When I got back to the States I had at least half a dozen people in my hospital room everyday all day long. I never had a chance to cry, or feel sorry for myself.”
Darrell also knew that just because he could no longer drive, that did not mean he had to give up on his love for his sport, or his responsibilities to his team and his sponsors.
“I had a race team and lot of things going on at the time. We had just won the Gator National, we were doing very well on points, and obviously I wanted to see that continue. I had sponsors, obligations. I had a will and determination to go out there and run the race teams. That kept my mind occupied.”
Before his tragic accident, Gwynn won the NHRA World Championship in 1983. In 2001, he was voted one of NHRA’s “50 Greatest Drivers All-Time”.
A Turn in a New Direction
In 2002, Gwynn created the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, an organization devoted to the cure of spinal cord-induced paralysis. DGF is dedicated to supporting people living with paralysis and to help prevent spinal-cord injuries, not just those sustained in motor-sports accidents. DGF has provided hundreds of power wheelchairs, at more than $20,000 each, to those who cannot afford them, especially children.
“We started out giving away two to three wheelchairs a year and now we donate over 300 power chairs with an average cost of $25,000. That is the biggest misconception people have. They have no idea how expensive or how necessary these chairs are. And they think insurance covers everything, or Medicare, but they don’t. And these things aren’t scooters. You can buy those for around $2,500. These are high-tech pieces of assistive technology that you need when you are injured to the quadriplegic level as I am, or have cerebral palsy or so many other paralyzing conditions. So many of these people fall through the cracks.”
The foundation also funds leading-edge scientific research while giving life-enhancing assistance to the underprivileged through Quality of Life Grants. Gwynn is also actively involved with and spokesperson for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis (www.TheMiamiProject.org).
“You know, it’s very weird, but just six months before I got hurt, I personally put a Miami Project decal on the side of my car, because my sponsor at the time, Coors, wanted us to be involved with a charity and give part of our winnings to the charity. We were doing good at the time, winning races and kicking butt, but I tell you, as soon as I put that Miami Project decal on the side of the car, like magic we started winning even more races, and then six-months later here I was on other side of the fence, kind of a twist of fate. But the Miami Project has done great things. Wonderful things. But we are two different types of organizations; they do research which is what we need, to find a cure, and we’re about helping people in the meantime until they do. So that’s why we make a good team. And if there is one thing I know about, it’s how to make a great team.”
Darrell and DGF have helped so many paralysis victims and their families; but like most of those who give back, there is always those one or two special moments that stick with you. “There was this one family, I do not remember their name, but the chair their little kid was using prior to us giving them one, was a kitchen sink that they had put wheels on the bottom of. And they used his dad’s belt to keep him belted in with a pillow to sit on in this kitchen sink! A kitchen sink, with wheels, can you believe that? After we gave him this life changing chair, we kept that old “wheelchair” to show our supporters how desperate people can be.”
If you would like to help the DGF continue to make differences like that, please contact them at: darrellgwynnfoundation.org
As Darrell says, “Visit our site, learn more about what we do, who we help. If you know someone who needs a chair, you can fill out the application, you can donate, you can volunteer. Check us out. We always have something going on, and we can always use your help.” - DUO