Erik Darnell is just like a lot of 21-year-olds. He is young, anxious and full of energy. He doesn't yet know the meaning of tired and is ready to tackle any hurdle on with all of his might. And all of those characteristics will be put to the test this coming season, as Darnell and his Illinois-based race team are planning a full time run with the NASCAR Elite Division Midwest Series. But that isn't enough for Darnell, so he is also going to run the full Southeast Series schedule as well.
“It is just a plan as of right now and it could change depending on how the Southeast season unfolds, but after a top-five in the first race, we are right on track to run all the races in both of the series this season,” said Darnell. “It is going to be a challenge but it is going to be a lot of fun too.”
Darnell has yet to run a full season in one of the NASCAR Touring Series, let alone two of them. The defending Wisconsin Challenge Series Champion (a Wisconsin touring Super Late Model series) ran a handful of races with the Midwest Series last year and a couple with the Southeast Series, but competed nowhere other than the WCS on a full-time basis.
It's a different story this year.
“We were looking at the schedule this year and (NASCAR) actually picked races that weren't conflicting with each other when you look at those two schedules. In years past, a lot of the year's races were on the same days on the same weekend. This year there is only one weekend where there are races in each series, but they are on different days, so I guess it is doable.
“In June, there is a Southeast Series race at Kentucky Speedway on Friday and the Midwest guys race at LaCrosse (WI) on a Saturday. We have two trailers so our plan for that weekend is to take the big trailer down to Kentucky and have the other one ready so we can get home, hop in and go right to LaCrosse.”
As you can imagine, the cross country travel will take its toll on the driver, the team and the equipment. The Midwest Series runs as far west at Colorado, while the Southeast Series is as far south at Houston (TX). And to add to it, the team would like to get out to Sonoma (CA) later in the year to race with the Southwest Series cars at Infineon Raceway to gain experience on the road courses since the Midwest Series rounds out the season at the road course in Brainerd (MN).
“It won't be too hard on me,” added Darnell. “It will hard for the rest of the crew. Everyone on this team has normal 9-5 jobs and they don't get paid to do this. They are all volunteers.
“The travel to the Southeast will be the hardest thing on the team though. We are probably going to commute back home after each week though, even during this opening four-week stretch with the Southeast cars. If we don't wreck, we will probably find a place to park the trailer and just take the rig home.
The racing angels will have to be with Darnell so he can make all of the races in his hectic 2004 schedule.
“After the race this weekend (in Hickory), we are going to get out of the track quick and fly home because we have a Wisconsin Challenge Series race on Sunday we are going to attempt to make in Columbus, WI.”
It seems like a lot, but racing full-time in two different touring series and trying to make a trip out west during the middle part of the season isn't all the youngster will do. When not racing with his tour car, he will be behind the wheel somewhere around his home in Beach Park (IL), which is north of Chicago just near the Illinois – Wisconsin border.
“We have two straight-rail late model cars too. We are going to try to be on the track whenever we are not traveling, whether it be at a local race like at Lake Genevia or with the Challenge Series. We will more than likely be racing every weekend.”
The #7 finished fifth in the Southeast Series opener at Nashville.
Darnell jokingly said that the team has no plans to try and hit a Northwest Series race so they will have hit all four NASCAR Elite Divisions in the same season.
“This is the first year we decided to run the whole Midwest Series schedule, which I look at as my home series right now. We've always just done some here and there. We'd like to go to Irwindale (CA, for the Toyota All Star Showdown) at the end of the year.
“I think top-10 in points is feasible in both series. We started off the year decent in both series. It is a possibility. We
This wreck in the Midwest Series opener couldn't stop Darnell from finishing 10th. (Benesh Photo)
have some really tough competition up here (in the Midwest Series) with guys like (Steve) Carlson, (Brian) Hoppe and (Eddie) Hoffman, so it would be tough to win the Midwest championship. We are hoping for a top-10,maybe even a top-five in points.”
So far though, the season is looking pretty good for Darnell. He sits 10th in the Midwest points, fifth in the Southeast points and leads the Wisconsin Challenge Series standings.
So don't be surprised if running up and down the highway this year, you pass a red trailer with a big #7 on the side of it. And be sure to keep a look out, because you might be seeing a young 21-year-old somewhere close by, always looking for a racetrack and a racecar to get just one more race under his belt.