The Lanigan career started with a rush, actually from point zero, right into a dirt Late M
He ran a trio of ARCA races and the same number of Busch Grand National events. His best showing in the ARCA races was a qualifying effort of Third at Charlotte. At Daytona, he was running well before dropping a valve. In Busch competition, he qualified for all three races-Darlington, Charlotte, and Rockingham-with an 18th at Charlotte being the best effort. "It's really tough making the transition to pavement," Lanigan says.
He gave pavement one more shot in 1999, running five ARCA races. His best effort was a Second at Charlotte, but he was also leading twice when mechanical gremlins put him down. He also ran a single Busch race, qualifying 17th out of 35 cars. But the dirt was still calling, and it resulted in five wins.
He thinks the fact that he's involved with the cars so closely makes him a better driver. "When something goes wrong with the car on the track, I immediately start analyzing what the problem is," he says. "If the car is pushing, for example, I know exactly what I'm going to do to fix it." On more than one occasion, Lanigan has been seen climbing out of his car and immediately starting work on his machine.
As he looks back over his mostly-dirt career, Lanigan sometimes thinks that it might have been better had he tried racing on pavement earlier. And looking at the family background, it would have been easy to do. "My dad [Porter] owned ARCA cars that mostly ran on pavement, but he got out of that about 10 years before I got started," Lanigan says. And Florence Speedway was nearby, so racing on dirt was a natural choice.
At this point, he is realistic about his chances for doing anything on pavement. "It is so competitive with ARCA and NASCAR, and it's also expensive," he says. "Really, if it came down to running nothing but dirt, I wouldn't be that unhappy."
Lanigan is one of the sport's best "readers" of a dirt track. He'll tell you that it's a super-important skill. "With dirt, the track surfaces are constantly changing over the course of an evening," he explains, "and you have to be able to adjust your car to respond to it. Then too, each track is also different with different types of dirt to deal with. Being able to figure out a particular track can give you that extra little edge to win."
The Lanigan career started with a rush, actually from point zero, right into a dirt Late Model. "There was really nothing racing-wise before I jumped into a dirt car when I was only l5 years old," he says. "In retrospect, it would probably have been better had I started in a Modified before getting into the big power of a dirt Late Model. It definitely took a couple years to get the hang of these cars."
In a sport characterized by rear ends of low-slung machines hanging all over the place in the turns, Lanigan takes a different approach: "I try to keep my car as straight as possible, [and] think I actually get around the track faster. When your rear end is hung out, you have to wait for it to come back around. I think that it really costs you time."
Lanigan says that his style is to have his car tight for the short tracks and loose for the longer ovals. "Having the car right allows me to get the car straight coming out of the corners," which he emphasizes as being important on dirt.
Of course, when it comes to competition on dirt tracks, large or small, Darrell Lanigan is tough to beat.