Two drivers with one common goal: winning championships.
David Darling and Gerry DeGaspere Jr. will both be chasing history when Seekonk Speedway’s 75th season of racing begins on Sunday, May 3. Both have seven track championships to their credit, and are the only two in history to accomplish that feat. They have secured their spot as future Seekonk Wall of Fame members, but now, it’s time to battle for the next accomplishment in 2020.
Darling has won all seven in the Division I Pro Stocks, while DeGaspere has earned his in the Division II Late Models. Two divisions that have seen change throughout the last decade and a half, but one common name sitting at the top.
Darling started his title in ’06-’07, winning two competitive battles, before taking a few years off the top and finding his way back with two more in ’12-’13. Since 2017, he’s done things in dominant fashion. Darling has won three straight titles in a competitive class by running through the field on a weekly basis. He’s won more than half of the Pro Stock races over the last three years and walked to the championship table.
DeGaspere’s path isn’t quite as apparent of late. His claim to fame will bring you back to the end of 2003, when he scored his first Late Model title, officially cementing his place on the map. Three years later, the real winning started. DeGaspere would earn three consecutive titles in the division from ’06-’08, securing his spot in history. After a quick two years off the top, he would return for another three straight from ’11-’13. Since then, he’s been silent when it comes winning titles. But he’s not done winning races and not done title hunting.
Neither of them are.
“As a team, we had Ronnie Pond (as crew chief) for four of those titles, and he’s been instrumental in the last three,” Darling said. “Ronnie has seen a lot of different things happen and so have I over the last few years. I’ve had a car back in ’05 or ’06 that handled almost the same as my car did last year. The track gets older, but the lap times get a little bit quicker — to be able to take cars that are essentially the same and go the same speed or quicker than we did 10 years ago on a track that is older is pretty outstanding. The competition has gotten better and better, which keeps us working to get better.”
“I never in a million years thought it,” DeGaspere said when asked what it means to win seven titles. “When I won my first title, it was Dick Houlihan’s second — and he told me at the head table that winning one was hard, but winning two was even harder. It took me two years to get back there. It was weird the way our seven championships fell in place."
Darling is fourth on the all-times wins list, while DeGaspere sits tied for ninth. They are two of five active drivers inside the top 10 — joined by former Pro Stock champions Rick Martin and Fred Astle Jr., former Late Model champion Ryan Vanasse, and Sport Truck standout Mike Cavallaro.
Last year was a sense of rejuvenation for DeGaspere, who earned another Late Model win, and brought his team back to the top with a new car. He will be one to tell you that the team behind him plays just as a big, or a bigger role, than he does himself as the driver.
“We finished fourth in points but only 22 out of the lead, that’s really close,” DeGaspere said of 2019. “The competition is better than it has ever been before. The overall group now is almost at a stronger level than it has been. A few years ago we went from winning five races a year to winning one race a year and that’s very bothering to me. I am so fortunate and overly joyed every time we win a race, because they are hard to come by. I know there are people that go forever without winning a race. But when you go from winning five races a year and championships to winning just one race a year without the championship, it’s not where you want to be. As a driver, a team, we are determined to get back there.”
It’s also clear their competitive nature on the track spills over too far more than just competing for trophies and bragging rights. They spend time off the track talking with each other and watching the others races on a typical Saturday night. The respect they have for each other is evident.
“I was glad to see him run better last year, he had a tough couple of years, and he was rejuvenated with a new car, able to run a bit better. Gerry and I have talked a lot, we’ve talked in racing season, chatting, even outside of race season,” Darling said. "He’s been congratulatory of our titles and he likes to watch our races, I like to watch this. I’m happy to see him as fast as he was."
“It’s a really good friendship between us. I go way back with their family, and I have spotted a bunch for David before. We go to dinner, each other’s family functions, birthday parties… at the track, he’s one of few people that I will talk with for an opinion,” DeGaspere said. "As far as driving, I think he’s the smoothest driver to ever run a lap around the place. It’s the guy that’s behind the wheel and he knows what he wants.”
For 2020, both of them have plans to start winning as soon as they can — and both will tell you that winning the championship runs through winning as many races as possible.
“There is confidence knowing that the rules are almost the same, but there aren’t as many unknowns going into the season, but everyone gets quicker and everyone figures it out,” Darling said. “It’s not easy. I’ve been talking to a few people about it, and I keep telling them to put a GoPro in my car. Is it horrible? No. Do I get good cars and I can drive them? Absolutely. A lot of it has to do with driving for a long time, and every year is different. You never know what it’s going to bring. It could come down to one week from a championship standpoint.”
“I think last year we put ourselves back in the positions where we needed to be but the cards didn’t fall in our favor with a few wrecks and DNF’s,” DeGaspere said. “The car is good week in and week out. It’s prepared — the guys spend a ton of time at the shop. They are there every night of the week. There are just a ton of people that can win in our division."
Chasing eight is on both of their minds.
"I don’t care if he wins the championship or I win the championship as long as one of us does — I’d rather do it — but if he gets the eighth before I do, I like him as a person and a racer and I would be just as happy seeing him win it. It would be awesome if we both won it this year,” Darling said.
"To say it’s a honor or anything like that is an understatement,” DeGaspere said. "We started off not even being able to qualify for races. To go from that, to what we have accomplished, I couldn’t be more fortunate or more proud of the team. If and when we do get the eighth, it’s just another piece of history."
Seekonk’s 75th season of racing begins on Sunday, May 3, with NASCAR Weekly Racing Series opening day, which includes the Pro Stocks, Late Models, Sportsman and Sport Trucks.
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