Former record holder Darryl Danko returning to Giants Despair this weekend

By Paul Sokoloski - [email protected]
After winning his fifth straight Giants Despair Hillclimb last year, New Jersey’s John Burke won’t be coming back this weekend to try for No. 6. - Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader

Here’s something that should hold the attention of fans at this weekend’s Giants Despair Hillclimb.

While the course’s current record holder for the fastest time sits out, the man with the second-fastest run will make his return.

Darryl Danko, back from a torn calf muscle that sidelined him last year, is ready to roar again.

The man who set the Giants Despair course record in 2007, that was eventually broken by New Jersey resident John Burke, will be back at the Giants Despair Hillclimb after a one-year absence when the 112th running of the annual two-day event fires off at 9 a.m. Saturday.

“Yeah, it was rough to sit there and watch,” said Danko, who lives in a home overlooking the course and spent his 2017 weekend at Giants Despair staying in the background and out of a car. “It’s kind of a helpless feeling when you get out there. It kind of makes you want it even more for the next year.”

He won’t have Burke to battle this time.

After winning Giants Despair for the past five years — every year he entered the competition — Burke didn’t enter this weekend’s field.

“No, he’s taking off this year,” said Jack Danko, Darryl’s father and the Giants Despair committee chairman. “His mechanic and the guy who takes care of all his vehicles (Kenneth Company) said he’s building a new home. And he’s selling that car.”

That car, a ‘97 Reynard Champ Car that Adrian Fernandez used to run on the Champ Circuit, zoomed up the twisty, tricky, mile-long stretch of Northampton Street in Laurel Run in 38.024 to set the new course record in 2014.

The run broke Darryl Danko’s old mark of 38.36 he set while winning the 2007 Giants Despair in a Lola Special — an Indycar he may drive again on the Giant in the near future.

“Everybody loved that car,” Danko said.

But without Burke, the showdown of course giants won’t materialize for a second straight year.

“I am disappointed he’s not coming,” said Darryl Danko, whose seven Giants Despair victories are more than anyone else accomplished in the race’s illustrious history. “John’s a great driver, great competition and he became a really good friend. I would like him to be here, it’s great for the competition. John will be back. He, like me for a while, had some personal things he wanted to do.”

Darryl Danko has never beaten Burke on the course head-to-head, although lately, the two haven’t had much chance to square off.

After Burke won twice when the two heavyweights first met in 2013 and 2014, Darryl Danko struggled with mechanical problems the next two years before sitting out last year with injury.

The Reynard Champ car he picked up for the 2016 event barely made it out of the starting blocks before Danko was forced to pull out of the competition that year.

“We were all disappointed, not just him,” Jack Danko said. “But things like that happen. Persistence pays off.”

Darryl Danko believes his mechanical team has the Reynard ready to roar this year. The only drawback is he hasn’t had much time behind the wheel.

“It’s pretty much the same as John Burke’s car, with a different engine. It’s a fast car,” Darryl Danko said. “We didn’t get a lot of training with the car. I’ve been following my daughter, she does a lot of soccer and you only get so much time as kids grow up. But the car seems fine. We’re hoping it performs. I think it should. We’ve had it three years now, we’ve had some issues. I wasn’t in it at all last year.”

A record field of 116 entrants will take to Northampton Street this weekend for the nation’s longest-running hillclimb, which is part of the SCCA National Sports Car Championship Series.

“We had to cut it off,” Jack Danko said. “After that, it gets a little tough to get enough runs in on the hill. The Giant is really the premier hillclimb in the series.”

The event began in 1909 and included renowned automobile names as Carroll Shelby, Roger Penske, Louis Chevrolet and Oscar Koveleski — who held the record that Darryl Danko broke in 2007.

It also brought about a world-famous daredevil one year in the late 1970s.

“There’s a lot of history around it,” Jack Danko said. “Evel Knievel was at the hill. He didn’t drive in the competition, but he had a big, pink Cadillac convertible he took up the hill. He had some dignitaries in the back, he was waving to the crowd and he scraped the guard rail. It happened right in front of me.”

But it doesn’t take a big risk-taker, a historical car-maker or engine innovator or even a record-holder, to make Giants Despair a big hit.

“There are a couple of other guys who should be very fast,” Darryl Danko said. “And they’ll be running some of the fastest times of the day. I hope everybody comes out and has a good time.”

After winning his fifth straight Giants Despair Hillclimb last year, New Jersey’s John Burke won’t be coming back this weekend to try for No. 6. winning his fifth straight Giants Despair Hillclimb last year, New Jersey’s John Burke won’t be coming back this weekend to try for No. 6. Bill Tarutis file photo | For Times Leader

By Paul Sokoloski

[email protected]

Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski

Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski