DAISETTA, Texas — It's no secret that youth has pretty much taken over our sport when it comes to drivers who dominate the headlines. From Tyler Erb and Bobby Pierce in Super Lates, to Kyle Larson on the big-league National scene, it's often drivers under the age of 30 who draw the most attention.
Yet for 65-year-old Street Stock racer Darrell Rhoades, age is merely a number. You see, this electrical contractor by day still loves to compete, and has surrounded himself with people who ensure he can run up front. In nine starts this year, he's won three times and earned seven top-10 finishes.
“That win on August 27 meant an awful lot given the troubles we'd been having lately,” Rhoades said. “A few races ago, we picked up some debris off the track. It cut a hole through the radiator, and I lost all the water. I knew we had an issue, so I pulled off the track.
“We put a new radiator in the car for the race two weeks later, but we had the same issue. The car was overheating again. My motor guy, Stacy with AARE, came over, pulled the thing apart, and found a blown head gasket. He thought the problem was solved, then discovered another issue with the engine.”
Even when things start to look up for a guy to get back on track, fate rears its ugly head once again.
“This time it was the block itself, and I thought I was done. I also have a Sport Mod, and my engine guy suggested we put the engine from car that into my Street Stock. I didn't want to do that. My Facebook friend Garrett Higgins introduced me to Tommy Moore, who had a motor for sale.
“He told me it had all top-notch parts in it, and would sell it at a reasonable price. I bought it, put it in the car, but didn't get a chance to fire it up until around 10:30 or so Friday night, the night before we needed to race. We got the bug and kinks worked out; the engine was stout, and we won the feature.”
Rhoades is a part of that wonderful extended family within the Cotton Bowl Speedway pit area. When this ageless veteran with 25 years in our sport wins, everybody smiles. He supports racing in several ways, and gets a ton of enjoyment out of the whole package. This year, he wears a very broad smile.
With 25 years behind the wheel, Rhoades has some interesting stories to tell about his oval endeavors.
“I didn't get started behind the wheel until about 1997,” he explained. “It was 12 years into my career before I won my first feature. It doesn't happen overnight. I used to help a guy around here, and we built a shop together. He built me a SportMod, but I'm just a fender guy. That's just not my world.
“In 1995, I passed by a racetrack one night in the Beaumont area. I think it was called Speedway 90 then, but is now known as Golden Triangle Raceway Park. I went one night, and was hooked. The announcer said how easy it was to get involved in racing. Just pick up a rule-book, he said, so I did.”
From there, it was all over but the crying for Rhoades. Now a “lifer,” he's as hooked as all of us are.
“I couldn't race the bomber class, so we built what they called a Pure Stock car. That class eventually evolved into Hobby Stock, and Street Stocks were kind of dying out. The track owner decided to change divisions around, so Hobby Stocks became Street Stocks, and that's where we've been since.”
That Advance Auto Parts Street Stock division at Cotton Bowl in which Rhoades runs is competitive.
“Our class is full of talented guys who can win on any given night,” he said. “We have veterans like Tommy Gural, who wins races and points titles, and Will Arnold, and we have younger drivers, as well. It's never easy to win or finish near the front; everything has to come together just right for you.
“A great thing about racing at Cotton Bowl is that there are always multiple lanes to race on, and the surface is always well prepared. Our company gives $100 each week to support the purse, and maybe it helps some of these guys race again. We also give $50 to a lucky fan, because they keep coming back to support the track. Without loyal teams and excited race fans, we have nothing.”
When this dedicated racer puts on his safety suit, grabs his helmet and gets ready to go, he climbs into one very fine machine.
“I have a Wild Child chassis built by Damon Hammond,” he explained. “He put a lot of time and effort into this car. It's always been a good car. With people like Damon providing his knowledge, and Blake Harris at K&H Suspension, that's really why we're running so well this year. It's the people behind you.
“Another example is Tommy Moore, the guy I bought this engine from. He's an older guy like me, and I appreciate him a ton. The motor was exactly what he said it was, and I'm very pleased with it. The car always handles very well, and this engine has all kinds of power. I'm truly grateful to win again.”
Along with his 25 years of experience and top-notch race car, Rhoades has several key people behind the scenes who keep his program on-track and successful.
“I need to thank all of my great sponsors, including WD Electrical Services, Damon Hammond at Wild Child Race Cars, Blake Harris at KH Suspension, John O. Widdington at Showtime Signs; and Eric Martin, who hung the body on my car,” he said. “I couldn't do this without their support.
“I also want to give special recognition to my wife, Kim Coleman Rhoades; my crew chief, Robbie Abshire and his assistant Mart Warren; and Stacy at All American Race Engines. Good people is what it takes to win, and they make it fun. We all want to win races and do well each week; but if you're not having fun, there's no sense in doing it.”
With the regular season drawing to a close around the great state of Texas, Rhoades has a few more chances to take home some hardware and spend more quality time with that big family at CBS.
“We have two more points shows at Cotton Bowl this year,” he concluded. “Then we follow up with OctoberFast, and we may possibly run the Fall Classic at Heart O' Texas in Waco. I'm not really sure if we'll make that one, but we'll be at the three final shows at Cotton Bowl, for sure. It's been a fun year.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Rachel Plant/Cotton Bowl Speedway