Column By: DYLAN TERRY / RPW – VERNON, NY – “I’m just at a loss for words right now, I’m on cloud nine.”
Those were the first words out of Danny Varin’s mouth during his victory lane interview after Saturday night’s All Star Circuit of Champions feature had concluded.
Luckily, Varin didn’t need to say much vocally after making a huge statement on the track against some of the best winged sprint car drivers in the entire world.
All of this coming at one of his favorite tracks, the Utica-Rome Speedway.
Danny nearly pulled off a clean sweep of the night, winning his heat, the dash, and leading all 30 laps during the A-Main en route to his first career victory in a 410 sprint car.
The only blemish on the evening was timing fifth overall during Hercules Tires qualifying. This actually set up Varin pretty comfortably, enabling him to lead the field to green during his heat race due to the All Stars format.
“We made some recent changes to this car, and it’s really paid off,” said Varin. “This is huge for this team, and just a dream come true for everyone involved.”
The dream Danny alluded to has been a long time coming, but turning this dream into reality has definitely not been easy for the pilot out of Sharon Springs, NY.
Over the years Varin has become a household name for dirt racing fans in New York. He has raced in a modified and a 360 sprint car, predominantly following the Empire Super Sprints Tour. With all the racing he has done, it provided the opportunity to travel to many of the tracks throughout the entire state.
In 2019, Danny made the jump to a 410 sprint car during the two appearances that the All Stars made in NY that year. He tallied a 5th place finish during his debut with the series at Outlaw Speedway, and put on a clinic two nights later at the Weedsport Speedway in just his second start.
Varin finished 2nd in his heat race, won the dash, and led the field to green on that night. He went on to lead the first 19 laps of the feature event before Danny Dietrich was able to mount a late race charge, sneaking by Varin’s #00 with just six laps remaining to score the victory.
The following year in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Everything including 410 sprint car racing in the Empire State was brought to an abrupt halt.
In 2021, the World of Outlaws visit to Weedsport was cancelled due to extensive rainfall, and the All Stars only visit to NY that year was at Stateline Speedway, located nearly five hours from Varin.
After nearly three years since his last 410 start, 2022 was a new year for Danny. First off, he made the switch from his well known Dover Brakes #00 car, to an entirely new chassis and team. Varin’s former car owner Dave Cruickshank (aka Dover Dave) decided to retire from racing, so Danny started his own team to continue racing.
He also decided to purchase a brand new X-1 chassis from Jason Barney and 87 Speed. A new team and car also meant a new number, which the DVR team selected as the #01.
It didn’t take long for Varin to become acclimated with the new chassis and new car. He ripped off 7 wins alone in 360 action with the Empire Super Sprints including two at Utica-Rome, which just so happened to be the site of Saturday night’s emotional victory.
His success also was replicated in his 410 performances. When the World of Outlaws made their long awaited return to Weedsport in July, Varin was able to run solidly, scoring a pair of Top 10’s during the weekend with the “Greatest Show on Dirt”.
Later that summer came August 20th, a date in which I’m sure that Danny had circled on his calendar for a long time. It marked the return of the All Star Circuit of Champions in New York, at Utica-Rome. What was supposed to be a night of anticipation, quickly spiraled downhill before a heat race was even completed.
Varin went out for time trials, but his car quickly slowed on the backstretch with an obvious problem. Needing to make repairs, he was unable to lay down a qualifying lap nor was able to make it back out in time for his heat race.
The team thrashed and was able to get Danny out for the B-Main, where he started last on the grid in the 12th position. Varin was ready. He drove the wheels off of the #01, wasting no time at all. He climbed all the way up to finish 4th, passing eight cars in the process. This punched his ticket to the A-Main.
Despite rolling off from the 22nd position, it was a track that he had seemingly mastered in 360 appearances that season. The race began and Varin picked right up where he had left off in the B-Main, navigating his way through field flawlessly.
By the time a caution flew with 14 laps remaining, he had already climbed to the 12th position. Then in a matter of seconds, disaster struck.
As fellow ESS competitor Paulie Colagiovanni came to a halt on the bottom of turns three and four with what appeared to be an expired motor, the initial yellow flag was quickly changed to a red flag.
After initial confusion, it slowly came to the attention of everyone in attendance that Varin was nowhere to be found on the racing surface.
Throughout the chatter, it was apparent that he had went over the cushion in that same turn and slid on the wet grass from rain showers that had passed through the facility prior to the event starting that night. And boy, did he ever end up going for a ride.
During the red flag, images and video quickly surfaced on social media of Danny’s #01 car entangled between trees in the middle of the woods surrounding the facility. It was a VERY long way from the racing surface, and the action was paused for nearly 30 minutes as the safety crew/officials tried removing the X-1 chassis from the forest.
Thankfully, Varin was uninjured in the accident, but had to have been extremely disappointed. The crew had worked so hard on repairs early on in the night, and the car had shown so much speed prior the incident.
All that resulted from the night for the DVR team was having one of the most memorable red flags in recent All Stars history.
Fast forward to 2023, and Danny has continued his 410 success after last August’s heartbreak. In May, he posted a heat victory and Top 10 at Weedsport when the All Stars came to town during their first NY swing of the season. Unfortunately, the All Stars show scheduled for the following night at Varin’s home track of Fonda Speedway was cancelled due to rain. This crossed off another golden opportunity to score that seemingly elusive 410 win.
Just a few weeks ago in July, it continued to rain (quite literally and figuratively) on Varin’s parade. The first night of the World of Outlaws “Empire State Challenge” at Weedsport was cancelled due to Mother Nature yet again. On night two, Danny again showed his determination to get to victory lane against the best 410 sprint car drivers in the world.
He turned many heads early on that night, as he won his heat race and the dash. He started on the pole of the feature against the World of Outlaws, at a place where he’s had a ton of success in the past. Things seemed to be going perfect for Varin, but once again turned out that it just wasn’t meant to be that night.
At the start of the feature, Danny led for two laps before eventual race winner David Gravel was able to get by him. As the race continued, Varin lost a few more spots, falling back to around 4th or so.
Varin’s motor was running hot, and it eventually forced the #01 pitside prior to the conclusion of the feature. Another heartbreaking moment for the DVR team, having had another fast car result in another disappointing finish against the best in the business.
On Saturday, Varin finally was able to put everything together and overcame all of the previous misfortunes. This magical night allowed him to perform the biggest wing dance of his entire life. It seemed like a real life “Danny vs. Goliath” story had become true, and you could feel the emotion at the track. Aside from the fans screaming, runner up two-time and defending All Star Circuit of Champions champion Tyler Courtney also acknowledged Varin’s triumph that had seemed so long overdue.
“Hats off to Danny, he’s always pretty tough when we come up here,” said Courtney. “He won the race, and it’s pretty cool to see something like that happen.”
With all of those frustrating moments throughout the years, it made Saturday’s victory at Utica-Rome that much more special and memorable for the entire family and team. On this night it wasn’t water droplets, but rather cheers and confetti raining down on the frontstretch of the half-mile. The capacity crowd at the Vernon, NY facility was ecstatic to finally see the local guy that they’ve watched for years finally capture a victory at the highest level.
“Hats off to all of the fans who packed this place, and to the track crew and staff,” said Varin. “I’m not sure there’s a better track in New York right now.”