Darryl Stephen Super Gas Champ in the face of adversity

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Darryl Stephen started the 2015/2016 Summit Racing Equipment Sportsman Series in Top Sportsman but switched back to Super Gas following an engine failure. It was a good thing he did…

Following a conversation with his Crew Chief Fred Dudek immediately after that engine failure, Stephen went on to eventually claim his second Super Gas Championship at the ANDRA Championship Grand Final winning the event and the title just as he did back in 2009.

But it wasn’t without its challenges.

“I sat down with my crew man Fred Dudek and we decided we would put my small block engine back in the car and go Super Gas racing for the rest of the season,” explained Stephen.

“Our first race this season in Super Gas was Warwick where the event winner Dale O’Dwyer beat us in the semi final. We then spent the next three days relaxing in Warwick and made our way across to Mildura for the next event. We had no luck there and were beaten in the first round by Colin Griffin in a very close race.

“We started the trip home from Mildura with my tail between my legs thinking I had lost my edge in Super Gas and maybe I was getting too old for it!”

Stephen and Dudek had only been home in Sydney for a week when it was decided at a coffee shop they would make the trek to Calder Park for the Rowe Memorial. Despite an electrical problem Stephen went all the way to the final to get his season back on track.

“I would like to thank Colin Griffin for offering to store my car for the following meeting at Portland instead of dragging it back to Sydney then back to Melbourne again but because of the problem we had I took it all home to Sydney,

“Once home we found the relay for the fuel pump was burned out, so we replaced it as well as a new fuel pump and off to Portland we went.

“Unfortunately after replacing the fuel pump we still had a problem with the engine missing and after qualifying my good friend Anthony Panetta came over to my pit area and said; what the hell is wrong with your car?

“After telling him what had happened over the last couple of meetings both Anthony and Fred started pulling the carby off the car and we found part of a broken gasket blocking one of the jets.”

Ironically Stephen would face Panetta in the first round, knocking him out to set up a match with Matt Forbes.

He didn’t advance any further but he could go into the Australian Nationals at Calder Park the following week full of confidence the car was now performing at its optimum level.

“Once at the Nationals I could feel a good weekend was about to happen for us.

“I have been lucky enough to win the Winternationals, Summernationals, Nitro Champs and the Super Gas Championship but the one trophy I always wanted was the Nationals and it had to be at Calder so I thought this is my chance to make my move for the Championship.

“The car was absolutely fantastic all weekend and we were lucky enough to take the Nationals win and complete my set of Gold trees. The drive home was a very good one, Fred and I went for a coffee at the local coffee shop and I said we can win the whole box and dice here, all we have to do is win the Grand Finals and it will be job done no big deal. Well as we all know it is not that easy.

Entering the ANDRA Championship Grand Final in Adelaide, Stephen was locked on 300 points with both Forbes and Griffin with defending champ Graeme Spencer 40 points behind on 260.

Stephen had to do it the hard way first taking out Griffin in Round 1 then Spencer in Round 2. Forbes was still in with a shot but he was also eliminated in Round 2allowing Stephen to scoop the Championship before the semi finals.

“While in the braking area I was thinking to myself, well it is just me and Matt left but to my disbelief when Fred and Tony Polito – who was also crewing with me for the Nationals – came down to pick me up they both said congrats you just won the Super Gas Championship. Matt lost his race so you are the last man standing.

“It was a bit of a shock because I was planning on having to go through to the final to be able to win it, I was not expecting to get it in the second round but that is how it was and I will take it.

“It was a bit emotional when I looked at Fred, we hugged and he just said very quietly, thanks, and that’s all that needed to be said. I think Fred deserved this one more than anyone else and I am glad I was able to deliver it to him.

“It is very satisfying because now we have won the Championship twice but I remember Tony Polito saying to me; it ain’t over yet champ, we still have a race to win, so I gathered my thoughts and got ready for the semi final against Peter Datsun who was also the top qualifier.”

A semi final win over Datson set up a final pairing with Jeff Romeo who Stephen respects and believes will win a Super Gas Championship in a matter of time.

Unfortunately for Romeo he got a little excited with a red light at the tree while Stephen put down a clean 9.902 second pass to complete the double.

“I have to say it felt every bit as good as the first one we won in 2009 but this one is a lot more satisfying, especially having my good friend Fred by my side after what he has been through for the last year.

“I just can’t explain it, he has been terrific all season travelling with me everywhere even though he is still recovering from cancer and wasn’t always in the best of health but he was always the first one in the bus for every trip.

“Of course we can not do what we do without the help of sponsors and I can not thank enough COINCO/Royal Vendors, Go Air Land And Sea Freight Logistics for all their financial support. Al’s Race Glides for one hell of a tough gearbox, Westend Performance, VP Racing Fuels and Christian Paul Watches.

“I would like to thank Fred or his tireless work on my car under trying circumstances, he is always there when I need him, his wife Jenny for letting him come out and play cars with me, Joe and Tony Polito for all their support, Anthony Panetta because he is a terrific man and always helps when he can, and he brings the best custard tarts to every meeting for me!

“A special thanks to my daughter Nikita and her husband Grant and of course my wife Sue. They were unable to travel with me for last couple of meetings because Nikita is expecting our first grandchild. Without all of those people this Championship would not be possible.”


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