Traditional Sprint Car FanSite

See You At The Races!!!

by Gary "Hammerdown" Costa

Riding Shotgun With "The Hammer" Darrell Hanestad

Darrell, thank you for allowing the fans to get to know you better......
DH: Thanks Hammerdown for the opportunity. It's been awhile since I've done this. Hope all your readers enjoy it.

Tell us a little about yourself......
DH: Well I'm 45 years old, married my high school sweetheart, Julie, 23 years ago and dated 6 years before that, and have a son, Blake, who is 13. I've been around Sprint Cars all my life. My dad, Hank Hanestad, owned cars driven by Jim McElreath, Jim Hurtibise, and Jan Opperman, who won his first sprint car race at Vallejo in our old ranger powered car. That is just a few names of who drove for my dad. My Uncle, Marvin Faw, won a NARC driving championship and my dad won it as a car owner. It was great because I traveled all over the Midwest from the time I was 5 years old each summer with him.

What is your plans for this year?
DH: I'm going to run Saturdays at Antioch. It's 15 minutes from my house, pays the best, and has excellent competition. Fridays are tough for me because I work Saturday, but will run some at Watsonville and Chico. We will definitely run the 5 GSC/ Spec-Sprint combination shows at those tracks.

How did you earn the nickname "The Hammer", It is well deserved by the way.....
DH: Brock Robertson gave me that name after a race at Calistoga. His words were, you're "The Hammer' and the car is the "Nail." Proved to be true that night as I hit the wall head on going for the lead and sawed that car in half. Then it was I was always on The Hammer because of my driving style.

You ran 410s for years.......
DH: I was 15 the first time I raced , but it started on a sad note. We had the old ranger Sprint Car that Opperman drove in the backyard covered in weeds. My dad told me to start working on it and I could drive it. We finished the car late Friday night together for Saturday,but my dad had a heart attack that morning and died. My only regret is he never saw me race. I did race at Anderson and Santa Maria some. Cliff Blackwell gave me my first ride and first win in the $ car. I've driven for Bob Nielson, Gil Suiter, Ed Watson, Daryl Saucier, Brock Robertson, Dencil Bailey, Rich Lovell and many, many more.

I think the fans will agree with me when I say, you were a pretty damn good shoe back then, hell, you're a good shoe now!
DH: Well I always tried to give them their money's worth. Looking back now I was able to win a good amount of races. I felt like we were a threat to win each time we showed up. With wins in NARC, GSC, WoO, 360 and Spec-Sprints, I guess I wasn't too bad. I'm still winning a few.

I will never forget a no holds barred slug fest I witnessed at Hanford. I believe it was in '89 at a WoO show. Jeff Swindell, BK, Bobby Davis, Jr., and yourself were waging war between yourselves....
DH: You are right, that was great race, and I'm still pissed I did not win! We had a fast car that night and the 4 of us were high and low, slide jobs, everything. I had passed Swindell and Davis and finally got BK but a yellow came out. On the restart I went high, BK went low and slid up the track and we both went over the berm. Davis won, BK 2nd, I got 3rd. When you are that close, you have to find a way to get it done. Normally 3rd at a WoO race would be great. This time it sucked!

You won the prestigious Gold Cup Race Of Champions at Chico that same year.....
DH: Man, did that make up for the night before at Hanford. Saturday's final was rained out, so they scheduled it Wednesday after Hanford. That rain really helped us because the track was really hooked up like we were used to. After our practice session I felt we could run a lot of stagger, so we stuck on 23 inches. Most WoO guys didn't have that small of left rears. We started front row with Jeff Swindell, beat him in the 1st turn and lead every lap. The car was perfect. It was great to win in front of your home crowd and at our biggest race of the year. I think I smiled all the way to Ascot for our next race.

What was your favorite track to run at and why?
DH: Calistoga. It's big and it's fast. I had some great races there, and some big crashes. It's just a balls out, whose gonna lift off the throttle first track. I kind of like that.

Who is the fiercest competitor you have faced in the Golden State and why?
DH: No surprise here, Brent Kaeding. He comes from a racing family and I think even as a kid, you pick things up watching and listening that you can use later. Brent never drove junk. I'm sure some of that was connections from his dad, Howard, early on, but more importantly he proved he could win races. And from the Bob Miller days on, Brent was able to keep that crew together and get sponsors to buy into his program rather than going from car to car. Brent was always aggressive and never quit 'till the race was over, which is why he's won so much. He has pissed some people off through the years, but I've never had a problem with him. Just good hard racing. There are other drivers as well. But one in particular was Dave Bradway Jr. It didn't matter what the track(big, small, rough, dry), he was always a factor. I had some exciting races against him. I remember at Skagit after the races, there were about 30 people standing around a local Sheriff's car hoping to get some good news about Dave, when we got the worst possible. I had driven the truck & trailer by myself to Skagit and had a 1,000 miles home to think about it. Two things I remember the most, was his impressive win at the Jayhawk Nationals. A big fast 1/2 mile beating some of the country's best drivers and how pumped up he was. On a completely different note, at Houston, TX before the feature, when drivers were checking the track as we walked it, we were talking about our wives and their jobs, this Outlaw stuff, and we never did notice the track. Today I still couldn't tell you who won the Dirt Cup or where I finished, but I can tell you we lost one of the best racers and guys I have ever met.

You took a break from racing for a while......
DH: I had opened a new business and was trying to race at the same time. I wasn't doing good with either so I stopped racing to put all my time toward the business.

What brought you out of "retirement"?
DH: I had a lot more free time on my hands, so one night I took my son to Antioch to watch the Spec-Sprints race. I thought they would be slow with a carburetor, but I was surprised of the speed and racing. I went again, but in the pits and I was hooked. Now, how was I going to talk my wife into this. So I did what any desperate racer would do, I took her out to dinner and bought her a bunch of martinis. Even then she was on to me, but she was fine with it. Only clause in it was I would promise not to run Calistoga. I think it had to do with the fact she knew the hospital staff on a 1st name basis there!

Since you started racing again, your stats are very impressive. At Antioch for instance, you're a two time Champion. Last year you raced 19 times and racked up 7 wins, and 14 top 5's......
DH: Fact is I've got a lot of laps racing against the top drivers in the country, so I should have done well racing locally in a new division. Having said that, I've become much more patient than in my early days. Also, as I said before, you've got to have good people helping you. I've got a group I wished I had years ago, S&S Automotive and the entire Santos family, George, Rick, Jeff, Dave and Cecelia, for supplying the motors and building parts, family members Gary Faw and Steve Tygielski, and friend BIG Richie taking care of the car at the track so I can just drive it.

How do you like the Spec-Sprint deal?
DH: I love it. I think it's doing what the 360 was supposed to do for people who couldn't afford a 410. Now the 360s are too expensive for a lot of people because they didn't put rules in quick enough to slow done the cost. Best 2 rules we have in specs are the 2 barrel carb. and weight. The carb. limits the amount of compression you can run because of the fuel you get to the motor so it will live longer, and you don't have to spend a bunch on porting heads. The weight keeps people from spending on lightweight parts. and no wing is so much easier on your whole drive train.

What's your opinion on all the new associations popping up?
DH: I think it shows the interest in this class. There's a need for it. I like the fact that a lot of tracks are showing interest in it and giving these associations a place to run. Having Watsonville and JPM running so many races this year is great for all the racers. And the rules between the groups are very close to each other, hopefully that stays the same. But for the big races at the end of the year, promoters need to be more flexible on the rules so you can draw cars from all the associations which would make for big car counts.

If someone were to be looking into this class, how much would it take to get them going?
DH: Depends if you want brand new or used. My 1st car I bought at a swap meet for $5,000, and motor was $10,000 S&S who builds my motors, will do them brand new complete for about $15,000. I've seen as high as $24.000 from other motor builders. Can it be done cheaper?, sure, but I want it to last for years. For example, I raced 28 races last year, all I did was change the oil, run valves and general maintenance. I burn about 15 gallons of fuel a night and bought 8 tires all year long, If you buy good parts and maintain them, these motors and cars will last for years. Crashing will still cost you a lot though.

Are we ever going to see you in a 410 again?
DH: Never say never, but I can't see a situation where I would. I'm real happy running these cars and having my own team. I like deciding where and when I race. It's much more relaxing, if there is such a thing.

"Hammer" I hate to ask this, but that ride into the trees at Calistoga was absolutely wicked. Care to share the story?
DH: That one really hurt! The night before we won, and BK was 2nd. I knew he was the one guy I had to beat Sunday. We started next to each other, I lead for awhile and in lapped traffic, he passed me for the lead. Going into the turn we were lapping a car, Brent went around him. I did too but the lapped car slid up the track just enough that I went over his right rear tire. I remember I was waiting for the front end to come down so I wouldn't hit the wall, about then out the corner of my eye, I saw the top of the guy's wing I went over and thought oh shi%#. When it hit, it just stopped ,and pieces started falling out of the tree. I was lucky that it didn't flip, because the tubing holding the belts ripped out and was about 2 ft out of the cage when it landed. I did break some vertebrae though. I know every time it's shown on T.V because people will just stare at me and ask if I drive a yellow race car that hit a tree. What a way to be famous!

Is their anyone you would like to thank?
DH: There are a few. First being any owner who gave me a ride, regardless of the results. It was an opportunity to do something I love to do. My father for getting me involved in Sprint Cars, and giving me the confidence to race. And the most important person in my life, my wife Julie, who has been with me from beginning through the good times and bad. She never cared how I did, just that I was safe. She's never been a huge fan of racing, but she's always supported me. Even to this day my son tells me she goes for a walk when I race. It's been give and take in our relationship, and I guess that's why it's lasted. She's definitely the one I want to go through life with.

Thank you "Hammer" for giving me the honor and privilege to interview you, and for letting the great fans out there get to know you a little better....
DH: Thank's Hammerdown for having me. You do a great job with these interviews!

Good luck this year my friend.......

DH: And to you also.

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