LAUREL RUN — After speeding up the Giants Despair Hillclimb for the first two times in a couple of years, Darryl Danko felt he was on fire.
And not only because he had the fastest time of the day.
Smoke and flames began billowing out of the engine of Danko’s Reynard near the end of his second run Saturday, leaving the winningest driver at Giants Despair with the first-day lead but without a car for the rest of the two-day competition.
“It’s a total loss,” a distraught Danko said. “We’re done for the rest of the weekend.”
The fire may have destroyed his car, but not his chances of winning for a record eighth time at Giants Despair.
Making his comeback to the course he lives on after being sidelined with a pulled calf muscle last year, Danko glided through the challenging, twisty, one-mile stretch of Northampton Street in 42.702 during his first run. And nobody else in the 122-car field came especially close to matching that mark.
With five-time defending Giants Despair champ and course record holder John Burke of Rumson, N.J. sitting out this year, Danko’s initial time held up as the time to beat, bettering Stephen Sincavage’s 43.682, Mark Aubele’s 44.112, Ray Kochin’s 44.386 and Timm Murphy’s 44.436.
But they’ll all have a few more chances to crack 42.702 when the competition concludes today, while Danko won’t.
“I was really happy with the first run,” Danko said, “it was nice and smooth. Going into this, I really a hadn’t run the car before. I took it really easy. I wasn’t even serious about the time. I knew I could do much better than that as I progressed through the weekend. It gave me a lot of hope to be in the 38 (-second) range.”
Those dreams quickly flamed out.
Near the finish of his second run, which ended in 46.51, Danko was hit with an alarming feeling.
“It was just starting to burn,” said Danko, who was physically unharmed during the incident. “I could see it in my mirror and felt it on my back. I wasn’t scared. I knew I’d be OK and I knew I could get out.”
Besides, his harrowing experience began right near members of the Laurel Run Fire Department.
“I got up to the top, pulled over by the fire truck,” Danko said. “And they didn’t know how to put it out. I pulled by the fire equipment knowing there was an issue, with thoughts and hopes it would be taken care of. “
Instead, Danko said he was met with a slow response — which was especially alarming to his father and Giants Despair committee chairman Jack Danko.
“By the time they did something, it was too late,” Jack Danko said. “The one girl ran. It was crazy. Very exasperating. They’re supposed to put fires out. That’s why they’re here. I’m just glad Darryl’s OK. But we’ve got to do things a little differently here.”
Darryl Danko said the incident will force the Giants Despair board to re-evaluate some safety measures for future races for an event that promotes itself as the longest-running hillclimb in the country and one of the lonest-running motorsports events in the world.
“The one thing that comes out of this is better fire safety,” Darryl Danko said. “It isn’t just me, it’s everybody who may be racing in the future. It’s one of those things, you live and learn.
“I think it was electrical,” Darryl Danko continued, trying to put his finger on what triggered the blaze that left his engine blackened and melted. “It should have been taken care of a lot sooner. Instead of a total loss, I should have been fixing some wires and getting ready to race (Sunday). It all went up in smoke.
This isn’t the first time Darryl Danko ran into trouble with his Reynard Champ car, which his purchased in 2015 for more than $100,000, but it looks like the last.
A faulty clutch took him out of the 2015 Giants Despair after just two runs, and in 2016, he never got it off the starting blocks.
In three Giants Despair races, Danko has made it up the hill four times — including his second and final attempt Saturday.
“It’s a hell of a loss,” Jack Danko said. “That happens sometimes. It’s like buying a new car and getting a lemon. It is what it is. I wanted him to sell it and now, we got rid of it anyway.”
But at quite a cost.
“There’s no insurance,” Darryl Danko said. “It’s pretty much a total loss.”
1. Darryl Danko`Laurel Run`Reynard`Formula S`42.702
2. Stephen Sincavage`Larksville`Chevy Corvette`Super Street Prep`43.682
3. Mark Aubele`E. McKeesport`97 BMW M3`Street Mod Extreme`44.112
4. Raymond Kochin`Weatherly` 80 Chevy`Special 3`44.386
5. Timm Murphy`Pittsburgh`00 Formula Mazda RX-8`Formula S`44.436
6. George Bowland`N/A`03 Cheetah`American Sedan R`44.976
7. Brian Micciche`York`93 Mazda Rx7`Street Mod Extreme`45.276
8. Jack Danko Sr.`Laurel Run`08 Radical SR3`Prototype 1`46.022
9. Charles King`N/A`02 Chevy Pickup`Special 3`46.236
10. Mary Sincavage`Larksville`17 Chevrolet Corvette ZO6`Super Street Prep`46.560
11. Michael Robinson`Perkasie`99 Chevy Camaro`Super Mod Extreme`46.956
12. James Joseph“00 Chevrolet Corvette`Super Street Mod`46.960
13. Todd Reid`Elkton, Md.`95 Honda Civic DX`Super Mod Extreme`46.976
14. Steve Lewis`Perkiomenville`17 Ford Mustang GT`E Street Prep`47.104
15. Dave Cutchins`N/A`11 Stohr F-1000`Forumula B`47.236
16. George Fink`N/A`66 Autodynamics`Solo V`47.364
17. Bill Feist`Bear Creek Twp.`86 Chevy Corvette`Street Prep O`47.448
18. Mike Polakoski`Wilkes-Barre`90 Ford Mustang`American Sedan`47.612
19. Haley Levengood`Reading`37 Ford Legend`INEX Mod`47.638
20. Christopher King`N/A`13 Chevy Outlaw Lt Model`Special 3`47.961
21. Robert Oswald Jr.`Boyertown`04 Viper Sv-1`Solo V`48.248
22. Eric (Rick) Johnson`N/A`79 Ford Mustang`Street Mod`48.260
23. Adrienne Vrabel`Duryea`86 Chevy Corvette`Super Street Mod`48.442
24. Bryan Dion`N/A`07 Volkswagen GTI`Street Mod F`48.468
25. Ron Lordy`N/A`08 Ford Mustang`GT 2`48.638
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski