Coming Through The Pack With
"The Demon" Damion Gardner
Thanks Damion for doing this for us fans...
DG: Hey, no problem!
How did you get the nickname "The Demon"?
DG: It's kinda funny. My dad's friends would call me
"Demon". When it actually took place, or became
"official" I was in Dwarf Cars and this guy Frank Munroe
I raced with, thought I should have a nickname. He thought
"The Demon" was suiting. I would be in the back, and go
to the front. It was like I was a whole different guy. Like I had
2 personalities. I think everybody has that. You have the good
side and the bad side. My style of racing has been like that, and
I've gotten better at being that aggressive. But when you're that
aggressive sometimes you pay the price for it!
You started your career in Dwarf cars. You were the 1995 Rookie
Of The Year. 1996 saw you garner 10 wins, finishing 2nd in points,
in 1997 you not only won the Nor-Cal Dwarf Championship, but stood
with the trophy girl 15 times!
DG: Yeah, we did pretty good!
You even won the most improved driver that same Championship
season, go figure!!!!!!!
DG: (laughs) Right ! yeah, yeah!
Why did you decide to move up to the Sprint Cars?
DG: I wanted to move on, my dream was to be a NASCAR type
and go there, but I had a smaller dream, you know NASCAR seemed so
far away I didn't come from a racing family, and I didn't really
know anybody, so that seemed kinda out of reach. But I always
wanted to just be a hired driver that can drive for a team, one of
the best teams, a team that has all the ideas and things I have in
mind like I did, winning, the money that it took to win and be
successful and that's what I worked at trying to get to.
What adjustments as a driver did you have to make from the
Dwarf Cars to the Sprint Cars?
DG: Well when I went winged racing, that was the biggest
challenge I ever faced. I went to the wings because Stock Cars
were dying kind of, and it was really the only avenue that I had
to go to at the time. So I decided to go that route. When I drove
a winged car it took me a long time, it took me probably a year,
and me being as meticulous as I was, I mean I tried every set-up
on the planet. And at the time it really didn't matter, it was
more or less me just trying to figure out how to drive the thing.
It was a BIG learning curve just to figure that out.
1998 was your rookie Sprint Car season, you took home Rookie Of
The Year honors at Placerville and finished 4th in the final point
standings. Pretty damn good for a rookie......
DG: That probably wasn't as good of a year either!!!!!!! (laughing)
I breakdown every aspect from the team. My driving, how I'm
driving the car. I watch other guys, and what makes them
successful and why am I not being successful. I do that every
week. I try to learn from the last event.
Can you share something from your first race?
DG: Actually, I was decently fast out of the box. I had a
guy with me, this guy Kevin Urton. I don't know if you know of
Gary: Shit yeah....
DG: Yeah, he's bad ass, and he's a big Placerville guy. So
we went to Placerville. Some people don't realize, just pulling a
tear-off at Placerville in a heat race is something you've got to
figure out, how and where to do it. I want to say I was 3rd quick
or something. Everyone was pretty excited. Then came the heat. I
think every corner I went down into I drove off the end! I would
come back on, pass 2-3 guys and then drive off the other end! I
looked fast, just looked out of control. So, I come in, I walk
over to Kevin, he's leaning on the fence. I'm looking for some
words of encouragement or something. I say, "so what do you
think?" Kevin says "Hey, is that thing hard to drive or
do you just make it look that way?" And that was the truth, I
made it look PRETTY difficult! And that was the first night
Your 1999 season was pretty successful too. Running in the
tough Civil War series, you racked up 7 wins and finished 2nd in
the points, with fierce competitor Dave Robinson, Jr. edging you
out by only 51 points.....
DG: Right, right. We had a good year. Actually that was a
really good year. I was pretty excited about that season. We got
back to winning, and we like that. Yeah, we didn't win the
Championship and that was a little disappointing, but we won a lot
of races and that's what I like to do
Any memories stand out from running with them?
DG: It was a lot of fun! Man I'll tell you, back then when
we got to run Chico, Placerville and all that. The tear-off issue
was always tough. Back then we didn't quite have as good of
tear-offs as we do now. We would put on as much as you could,
which was like 22. You run a 30 lap feature, and you just wished
you could put more on there, but you can only put so many. Then
going down to the big tracks like Hanford and San Jose those were
a little more challenging, because the car acts different on the
bigger type tracks.
Then in 2000, you swapped the 360 for a powerful 410, and
traveled the NARC/GSC tour. You racked up a win in both series
DG: Yeah, we won at Chowchilla and Santa Maria that year!
You've also racked up a win in the USAC Western States pavement
Series at Albuquerque in 2001, and did a wing dance at Calistoga.
How did you feel after winning at such a legendary place?
DG: It was great! It's a joint that you have to put on your
resume. If you win at Calistoga, your name goes with a bunch of
great drivers. It's a historical place, it's a fast joint, so when
you win at Calistoga you were the fastest car that night. To win
there you have to be fast. Unlike Chico and some other places
where you can muscle your way to the front. Calistoga is just
about SPEED, it's cool to win there!
At this point in your career, you have raced against some
really tough dudes, why do you think you achieved so much success
in a relatively short time in the Sprint Cars?
DG: I work real, real hard at it. Racing has always come
first. I don't know exactly. Everything I've gotten I've worked
hard to get it. I think I'm coordinated which makes the driving
part a little easier. I don't know that I'm naturally a great
Sprint Car driver. I just try to break everything down on a night
we would win. We would still go over everything, and figure out
how we could have done better. I would take that approach from my
driving all the way to the crew, everything. So that every week we
would get better and better. We never really got to peak in the
winged stuff I think. Every year we had a decent year we moved up
a level. We went pavement than non-wing, so I don't think we
really peaked. We were pretty inconsistent, we would win one, then
run eighth, then run second and run tenth. That's what we needed
to figure out, was how to be consistently up front.
Vinnie Lattner/Kevin Urton, what do those two names mean to
DG: Kevin has helped me out since day one to now. The past
3 years or so, he's been more of a mentor. Kevin is a guy I can
talk to, a guy I can trust. He gives me his personal opinion on
things. He's seen the ups and the downs, and he's been able to
help me along the way.
Vinnie has helped me out a lot. He has experience running with
Paul and Bobby McMahan, so he helped
me with the big tracks right away. Vinnie learned me the whole
time we were racing. He learned the things I liked, and the things
I didn't like. Vinnie learned what I needed to go fast, he is a
super crew-chief. He knew exactly what needed to get done. The
first year we went on tour, he did an excellent job! We've always
been a little underfunded, but over worked. Everyone of my guys on
my team from day one, has always been about hard work.
People might think you had a big budget back then...
DG: It's all been done with sponsor money, and every dime I
can pinch out of my regular working wage. I was lucky enough to
have a couple of great guys who got me a big sponsor down in
Arizona. That's what enabled me to go 410 racing.
Then we move to the no holds barred 2002 season. Again, you
were turning heads up North, how and why did you guys make the
decision to run that first Perris race?
DG: *Laughs* Me and the guys were working in the
shop, this was in January sometime, and we were just putting our
winged cars together. The SCRA opener was coming up. Kevin calls,
he says "Hey you should go down there!" We have talked
about going to the Oval Nationals for a couple years. We were just
burnt out at the end of the year. I told Kevin if we go, you're
gonna help us come finish the car and go down there with us. I
said let me talk to my guys, I'll call you back. So I got off the
phone, talked to my guys, and they said, what the heck we'll go.
So Kevin came down, we put the car together....and that was it!
Can you share something from that first hot lap session?
DG: It was awesome! The first time I got in a non-winged
car everything felt like it should, just how you drove it made
Why the decision to stick with the Non-Winged deal?
DG: I think the first night, we started like 20th and run
like 5th or 6th! We had so much fun, and I just threw it out there
"wanna go next week" and they said "hell
yeah!". Here we go, we're off again. We would never have
dreamed to drive to Perris 20 times a year. If you would have
asked my guys before that, they woulda told you no way!
I mean, you really have to do a lot of traveling to race with
those guys. Do you drive to the races still?
DG: I did when I drove for Harlin in the #45 and in the
beginning for Ron Chaffin. Now I just fly every week.
That first year is absolutely impressive. You finished 3rd in
the points with 4 wins, on 4 different configurations. Perris,
Williams Grove, Ventura and Manzanita. And you tore up the Perris
clay to record the first sub 15 second lap in a non-wing car which
still stands at 15.954 on Halloween night of all nights!
DG: Yeah, yep! It was pretty awesome! I'm working on
breaking it again! Yeah, that was very cool.....
To date what would you say is the biggest win you have?
DG: The coolest venue, I gotta say the win at Williams
Grove was pretty cool. We were pretty awesome there. It took a
driving style and technique that was really fun. Personally, I
would have to say mentally and driving. The race at Hollywood
Hills, NM. I had to change things and do things different things
to win that race, because as the race went along, I had to evolve
during the race. Personally it was one of my favorites. I lead for
a long time, then halfway through it, I got passed, and went all
the way back to fourth. I had to figure a new strategy and I just
never gave up and kept digging, and charged back to the front and
won it. That race I had to do things a lot different. I ran harder
than I've ever ran. I just felt I wanted more than anyone else.
It seems like you never give up or fall out of the saddle. You
are just as strong at the end of the race as the beginning. Never
give up doesn't apply to you.....
DG: Especially now with the #50 car, and at stages with the
#45. The #20 was obviously a little more ragged just because I was
trying to figure a lot of things out. We're at the point, where
we're good EVERY night. I thought about this the other day, you
can't win 'em all. You're going to get the 2Nd's you're going to
get the 3Rd's their's going to be nights when your car isn't good
enough to win, and you've got to figure out when that is. Trouble
is lately, my car is good enough to win EVERY night!
Damion, what happened my friend when you were thumping the
field and wadded her up at Tulare that year?
DG: One night I won at Perris and they said I just killed 'em.
That night I was running 95% the whole time. The car was so good,
I thought about looking up at my guys and see if I had a big lead
then I realized, hey I'm not running that hard. I knew I was fast.
Then their's the nights I'm running super hard and it's a lot of
fun too. It's fun to be on the edge, you've got to find the edge
to know where you can go to. If you never hit the edge how do you
know what you can get away with? Sometimes you so wrapped up in
the fun, which it's supposed to be fun, you get going so fast and
you just realize how much fun it is! It's just so much fun running
the car that hard. Every once in a while you make a mistake. I'm
not saying I'm a daredevil, I just have fun out there.
Ever get scared?
DG: Their was a time in my career when it was hard to fly
down the straightaway at Calistoga and haul it into the turn. A
guy told Brad Furr at Calistoga one time, if you want to be fast,
just put your left foot over the torque tube and hold the right
one on the floor the whole time and you'll be quick. I remember
doing that, just holding it on the floor and haulin' the mail!
It's hard, sometimes your right foot slips up and you can't
explain why. So yeah their was a time I wasn't that confident and
wasn't that confident with the car. I realized once I started to
get fast and won some races, I wanted to be SUPER FAST!!!! I just
decided I'm either going to be fast, or crash. I would rather
crash going to the front, than crash running around in the back.
You've done some racing out in the Midwest too.....
DG: Yeah, a little bit. We're spoiled out here with our
track conditions. I have a big appreciation for those guys that
can drive on those tracks.
How do you like running at the Chili Bowl?
DG: I like it! I haven't really got to be involved hands on
with a Midget. I just show up and drive, but it's a lot of fun.
You go there you drive hard, everybody's gotta drive hard! Yeah,
it's a lot of fun, I enjoy it.
2003 you took the helm of the potent Harlin Willis #45 and
racked up 7 SCRA main event wins. Did you feel any added pressure
knowing Cory's success in that car?
DG: I don't know, the pressure to do as well as the guy
before me has never crossed my mind. You've gotta be about winning
races 'cause that's what I'm about. You know my style, it's a
little different than some. If you want to ride around some nights
and get good finishes I'm probably not your guy.
Then is 2004, legendary car owner Ron Chaffin hired you to
wheel to the lil' red sucker. Can you put into words what it was
like to be chosen to drive a car that has so much history behind
DG: It was a big honor. It doesn't really get any better
than that. They've won a lot of Championships. They just have a
understanding for what it takes to win.
What's it like to work with the great Bruce Bromme, Jr.?
DG: Bruce is the best! Some people think drivers are
babies, they're this and they're that. Bruce just has a real
understanding that if you have a good driver and the driver is
happy, he will do things to make stuff happen that you can't
believe! He knows the driver has to be happy, he always has good
equipment, that's just a given. He takes very good care of the
cars, maintenance is great and he doesn't let his pride get in the
In your first season together, I think some people started to
wonder if Ron made the right choice. Stop #6 at Hanford on the
USAC/CRA tour things began to click. You finished the season with
1 SCRA and 8 USAC/CRA main event wins, with a 2nd place finish in
points. In your opinion, what brought the change?
DG: I was going to the shop every week racking my brain
trying to figure out some things. The car didn't feel that good, I
wasn't that confident with everything. I felt like I drove every
lap as hard as I could and would only get a 5th. I felt like I
just couldn't make it happen. Things that Bruce did for Richard
weren't working for me. It's funny, me and Bruce got into little
scraps. He told me I gotta drive it and I told 'em he's gotta fix
it! (Damion Laughing) We had a talk one day, he was all
about making me feel comfortable. We ran a coil sway bar EAGLE,
ran second with it. Went back to the standard 4-bar car and just
went out and killed 'em. When I got out of the car, I told him
this felt like home, he said well let's order some up! At the end
of the day it's all about winning.
Is Championship on your mind?
DG: It's always on our minds, the back of our mind. If I
win a Championship, it's because I'm winning races. I'm not going
to change my style and everything to win the Championship. If I
win the Championship it's going to be the way I want to win it.
It's going to be because we were the fastest and best car that
I see a pattern here Damion, I'm sure the fans do to. You just
keep getting better and better......
DG: As you move up and up in levels of competition, it gets
harder and harder. It takes 2-3 years. That's to put the team
together, learn the car, and learn the specific skills to drive
that car. It takes that long just to put the pieces together. And
then if you have anything go along that interrupts that, then it
might take a little longer. But for the most part I've been able
put the plans together, within a few years of every type division,
and wherever I'm at I'm able to run pretty good.
When you're strapping in, what are some of the things that are
going through your mind?
DG: I've already done my pre-planning in the beginning of
the week. I really don't think about a lot. I've already gone over
how I'm going to change things in my driving, how I'm going to be
calmer. I really don't like to think about anything.
So during the week you're already making a plan of attack?
DG: I'll think about maybe we have a good set-up at a
certain track we're going to. If we try anything, what are we
going to try, and what are going to be the effects of what we try.
What do I need to change in my driving. If I have a bad race for
instance, I will think about what went wrong, and what can I
change to make that not happen again. You want to stop and think,
and maybe you can do something different.
Have you always been such an intense person?
DG: Whenever I've done something I try to be the best. I
was good at sports when I was younger, good at things I did, but
never gave it my all. I used to be a wrestler in school, probably
could have been way better if I would have put hard work and
effort in it, but I was having a good time and wasn't really
interested in that. When I decided to race, I decided I wanted to
be one of the best. At the end of the day I wanted to look back
and say I gave it my all!
What is your ultimate goal in racing?
DG: If I was just one of the best Sprint Car drivers, that
would be alright with me. I look at NASCAR, and I have a
understanding for how it works. From how you run the team to how
you work on the car. The thought process that's involved. It makes
me want to be there, because I really think I can do it. But then
again, some days I'm down at Bruce's working at the shop, and
we're having a good time, we're collaborating back and forth and
things are going good. I'll stop and look around, and I will
think, this is what it's all about!
Is their anyone you would like to thank?
DG: I just want to thank all the guys who have sponsored me
or worked on my car. All those who have been involved with my
first car to my last car. They always knew their role and did
their role. Every one of them that was involved is a big part of
why I'm here today, and who I am today. My parents. My dad taught
me when I was younger, bottom line, if I wanted things and if you
work hard, you get 'em. Kind of what I've always done. I wasn't
always the smartest, I just worked harder at it. A special thanks
to Brad Furr, he's always helped me along the way. I
never would have been able to race without him.
OK buddy, thanks again and good luck on the rest of your year!
DG: Thanks, no problem!
*Unfortunately you can't get the full force of this interview.
As myself and Damion ventured deeper into the interview, the more
intense he got, especially when he talked about driving the car.
Thanks for all the laughs my friend. This interview is dedicated
to my 5 year old daughter Kyra, who claims "The Demon"
as her boyfriend*
To contact Gary email@example.com