RV with a purpose
Former drag racing star Darrell Gwynn is presented with a custom mini RV for use around tracks to promote spinal cord injuries foundation.
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:53 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:53 a.m.
GAINESVILLE — As a young drag racer in the late 1980s, Darrell Gwynn earned the nickname “The Wolf” for the ferocious hunger he displayed on the track.
Then came the crash.
It was 1990, the middle of the National Hot Rod Association season, and Gwynn had just won the Gatornationals in Gainesville.
“I went to England and on April 15, 1990, my dragster broke apart during an exhibition run,” he said. The horrific wreck left him paralyzed.
“Before the crash I had planned to keep racing. We were only five weeks into the season, and then it was a new normal,” Gwynn said.
“I had to regroup. My family, friends and having the race team — then headed by Frank Hawley — as therapy got me through those times,” he said. “I'm still adjusting to (the paralysis) and every day is a learning experience.”
Gwynn was named Hot Rod magazine's person of the year in 1990 and was dubbed a sports legend by the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in 1997. He also was honored as one of the NHRA’s top 50 drivers in 2001 and awarded the NHRA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
Now 51 and head of the Darrell Gwynn Foundation for spinal cord injuries, Gwynn still displays the hunger that made him a prodigy on the race track. Except, now, Gwynn’s hunger is to help prevent spinal cord injuries and help support paralyzed people.
“The foundation has given away about 300 special motorized wheelchairs, which cost from $20,000 to $25,000 each. We gave two away at the 2013 Gatornationals,” Gywnn recently explained, saying the foundation also has donated a number of manual wheelchairs.
“It’s great to see people get back to college or to work,” with their newfound mobility, he said.
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But Gwynn found himself on the receiving end of an amazing piece of equipment at Gatornationals when he was presented with a unique 16-foot scale version of a 45-foot Prevost RV.
The off-road-only mini-Prevost, which was designed to accommodate Gwynn when he attends NHRA and NASCAR races nationwide and promote the Darrel Gwynn Foundation, was donated by a group of fellow racers and makers of the installed equipment.
The motor home bristles with state-of-the-art comforts and audio visual accessories, and includes ramps for wheelchair accessibility. The heating, cooling and audio-visual systems are voice activated.
“This is awesome,” said Gwynn as he looked over the mini-Prevost near his Darrell Gwynn Foundation trailer astride the track grandstands.
The trailer is stationed track side at the Daytona 500, the Gatornationals and other race events to raise awareness and funds.
“We’ll use the mini-Prevost to transport the recipients for the presentation at the track,” he said.
Wesley Johnson received a $26,000 power chair to replace the manual chair he could no longer use after losing the use of his hands, and Zynetta Johnson (no relation to Wesley Johnson) received a $7,000 custom manual wheelchair.
Both are residents of Jacksonville, and are car wreck survivors.
The mini-Prevost, with electronics, environmental control systems and air lift for accessibility, was delivered to Alliance Coach in Wildwood for outfitting by Gwynn’s friend Rick Keller, who spearheaded the project.
The mini-Prevost started out as golf cart.
“We stretched the golf cart frame to 16 feet and the mini-Prevost is four feet wide,” said Keller, owner of Bulls-Eye Express truck line of York, Pa., where the frame fabrication was done.
Keller met Gwynn about four years ago at a NASCAR race, where they struck up a friendship.
“Darrell stopped by the 56-foot trailer I towed to the race with a semi-tractor. It has an 80-foot-by-40-foot fold-out party room,” Keller said.
Keller decided to build the vehicle to help Gwynn enjoy his visits to the Daytona 500, the Gatornationals and other tracks nationwide and to support his foundation.
“(Gwynn) gets cold very easily, and this is a way for him to enjoy the races track-side, and he will use it to promote the foundation,” Keller said.
The mini-Prevost has a three-foot-by-eight-foot interior cabin with an extendable side, which adds several feet.
Steve Scrape of Alliance Coach — a 60-bay RV cabinet fabrication, upholstery body and chassis shop near Wildwood — outfitted the interior of the mini-Prevost with electronics, including a digital TV and satellite dish.
“Mr. Gwynn has done so much for others. This is the first time anyone has done something for him. That’s why Mr. Keller did it,” Scrape said.
Scrape said the gleaming red, white and black vehicle has a 12-volt LED lighting system with a 4.8-kilowatt generator and a 96-volt state-of-the-art battery.
“The front seats are air cushion ride seats from a semi tractor,” Scrape said.
“We’re not putting a (dollar) value on the mini-Prevost yet,” Keller said.
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Fellow racers Don Garlits and John Force were competitors of Gwynn’s at one time, but now are admirers.
“I called him the Wolf; he was lean and hungry. (Gwynn) would’ve been the one to beat,” Garlits said in an interview at his Museum of Drag Racing near Ocala.
Seven-time Top Fuel drag champ John Force agreed.
“Darrell was running Top Fuel when I was in funny cars,” Force said. “He would’ve been the one to beat (in 1990), but I guess God had a different plan for him. It’s unbelievable how much good (the Darrell Gwynn Foundation) does; the (mini-Prevost) is a great idea,” Force said as he stood near his pit during the Gatornationals last weekend.
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