The Daniels Take Their Sunday Drives Seriously

MOTOR SPORTS

July 14, 1991|By Stanley C. Dillon

MOUNT AIRY — Think of family recreation, and sports like tennis, golf and badminton come to mind.

But auto racing?

That's the activity of choice for members of the Daniels family.

Al Daniels Jr. and his son, Allen, spend summer Sundays racing at the Hagerstown Speedway in the entry-level daredevil division.

Allen started racing late last year. His father, Al, drove the car a couple of times right near the end of the season and decided to join thefun this year.

"It was great," said Al, who underwent triple-bypass surgery last summer.

"I didn't realize how much I missed it until I got back in there," he said.

Though they are becoming increasingly active in the local racing scene, the Danielses are not new to the sport.

Al's father, Al Daniels Sr., was a race driver at the Condon Speedway near Eldersburg and the now-defunct Bowling Green Speedway in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. As a teen-ager, Al Jr. helped his dad work on the car and became hooked on racing.

When he was old enough, the junior Daniels drove for three years in the '60s. Then he started building a house and had to decide which endeavor was more important. With a growing family and a business to operate, Al decided to give up racing.

In the intervening years, Al has followed the local racing scene but has never had the time required to be a participant.

Al and his son, Allen, operate a family auto parts and towing business. Drivers from across the county have been going to A & D Auto Parts Inc. on Route 26 north of Taylorsville for cars and parts since 1954. Customers also can catch up on area racing news.

When the racing season began last year, Al and Allen were going to races asspectators. Each week the urge to enter increased. Eventually Allen,27, decided he was ready to race.

"I have been wanting to do it for a long time," he said. "I never had the opportunity to do it before. I didn't have the time or the money."

At this level of racing, most teams use General Motors Corp. cars and parts, but the Daniels team chose Chrysler Corp. equipment.

"We were watching everyone running Chevrolets," said Allen. "We wanted to do something different, get out of the ordinary. So we decided to run Chrysler."

The decision was indeed different. In the world of dirt-track racing Chevrolet and GM equipment dominates. Ford Motor Co. products are scattered through the different divisions, but Chrysler products are rare.

"Thefamily has always done things out of the ordinary," Al said. "My dadran a '51 Hudson Hornet in the '50s when everyone else was running Fords."

The approach has been distinctive but has also posed challenges. The Daniels team was working with cars that no one else in the area raced and thus had no experience on which to draw. Essentially, they had to start from scratch, the chassis, gears, everything. Trialand error became modus operandi.

The daredevil division is the entry-level class at the Hagerstown Speedway. Drivers compete in cars that are modified only slightly from what people drive on the street.

Allen's car, a 1970 Dodge Cuda, was built first. He raced the lasthalf of 1990.

"It was great," Allen said of his first race. "I (snow) ski, I ride and race motorcycles. Racing is something different.It's a thrill."

Before Allen's first season was over, his dad decided to try his hand at a couple of races. Then during the off-seasonhe built a car for himself, a 1972 Dodge Challenger.

Both cars are similar in appearance, and both are painted red. Both have Dodge engine blocks that are bigger than the norm. Allen's car has a 383-cubic-inch motor, and his father's has a 400-cubic-inch engine. Most other drivers have Chevy small engine blocks.

"They cost less to run,"Allen said. "The big blocks will last a season while the other drivers will use two or more engines."

But the rules at Hagerstown requiring restrictor plates have hurt them. The plates are put between the carburetor and the manifold and limit the flow of fuel to the engine. The devices, which provide an equalizing effect among cars, keep speeds down in the interest of safety.

"The big blocks need more fuel, and we don't have the power to get off the turns like the other cars," Allen said. "But we make up for it on the straightaways."

Tocompensate for the limiting effect of the restrictor plates, the Daniels team makes adjustments to gear ratios, depending on the size of the track.

And from the performances in recent weeks, again through

trial and error, it's apparent the father-and-son racing team ismaking its cars competitive. Allen finished second in a feature lastmonth, and finished second in a qualifying heat on Sunday before rain wiped out the feature.

"We had to do all the experimenting ourselves," said Al, 49. "We're running everything out of the junkyard. Once we get the gearing right, we'll be there. We are also experimenting with motors to see which one gives the most power."

The two racers credit fellow driver Doug Devilbiss, a Westminster mechanic, with helping them make progress with their racing efforts.

The bottom line is that the Danielses are having fun. Al's wife, Brenda, comes each week to watch her husband and son.

"We're up here to have a good time," she said. "It's a family sport."

Brenda's not kidding, either, because she's not about to let the guys have all the fun. She plans on driving in an amateur race at Hagerstown later in the year. After that, who knows? The entire family may make racing history someday racing against one another in the same race.

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