LAUREL RUN — While his crown as the Giants Despair’s fastest driver was being threatened, Darryl Danko appeared powerless to do much about it.
The king of the hill was having enough trouble just getting his new car up the old hill.
That left all eyes on New Jersey driver John Burke, who took the first-day lead and came within a whisker of breaking the course’s fastest time of 38.360 Saturday before falling less than three-tenths of a second shy of the mark Danko set in 2011.
That left Burke as the race leader entering today’s final action, ahead of his son Connor Burke (who put up a time of 42.166), Bob Gardner from Newark, Del. (43.590) and Danko, who hit 43.884 seconds before his problems started.
“Got close,” said Burke, who roared to a time of 38.599 on his fifth and final attempt of the day while delighting hundreds of fans hoping to see someone make history. “There’s always (today).”
Danko’s just hoping the second day of the event will bring him a little less despair than the first when action resumes at 9 this morning on the steeply-inclined and windy one-mile Laurel Run course.
Debuting the Jedi Indycar he purchased during the spring, Danko started off well enough. He shot up the hill in 43.884 seconds - good for third-best on the day - during his initial attempt.
“We had a good one the first one,” Danko said. “I thought, ‘We have something here.’ “
What he had was a day of distress.
Balky boost lines on his turbo forced Danko to abort his second attempt, and his third didn’t go much better - as he finished that run in 66.564 seconds. His fourth try was a little smoother with a ride of 46.550, but his fifth and final attempt backfired badly - with rapid, machine gun-like pops that began just after Danko’s start and left him crawling at a snail’s pace.
“As soon as the car starts to pop like that, that’s when the line’s come off,” Danko said. “Then it’s just a cruise up the hill. It wasn’t going past 6,000 RPMs. This car is made to go a lot faster than that. The boost lines on the turbo keep breaking or coming off.”
He knew something was off just after beginning his second attempt Saturday.
“The hose blew off. I said, ‘Why go up?’ ” Danko said of his aborted run.
His new ride never felt real smooth again, despite the best efforts of his crew, led by chief George Willis.
“I thought we had it every time we went,” Danko said. “Now I’m starting to wonder for the (whole) weekend. The car definitely has potential, I thought we could definitely get the high 30s with it. I just can’t get one run up the hill.”
In the meantime, Burke narrowly missed climbing over Danko for the fastest run at Giants Despair.
“He’s having a hard time with his car,” Burke said of Danko. “He has a new car, he’s trying to get it figured out. I hope he gets some good runs out of it.”
At this point, Danko would feel good to just get going at a decent pace.
“Right now, I’m not worried about the record,” Danko said of a mark he still owns - but barely. “I just want a couple decent runs, see where I stand.”
His main competition isn’t standing still.
Burke issued an early challenge by setting up his tent directly across the street from where the Dankos camp out for the race, although the Rumson, N.J. resident called that happenstance.
“This is much easier for us,” said Burke, who competed in his first Giants Despair last year and pitted at the far end of the main car yard in 2013.
Evidently, the actual event wasn’t as difficult for him, either.
Gunning his 1996 Reynard Champ Car that was formerly driven by professional Adrian Fernandez in Indycar’s Champ Car Series, Burke kept picking up speed with each of his starts.
He took a swipe at Danko’s three-year-old record on the fourth run, when Burke finished with a time of 39.007. Then he got almost James Bond-like on his final attempt, when Burke really made a run at the all-time speed mark before finishing in 38.599.
“I thought that might have done it. That was a good run,” Burke said. “The car’s really good and we’re going faster every time. It’s been a year (since his first Giants Despair competition), and my first time in the car from a year ago. Didn’t want to do anything stupid. The first run or two was about remembering how the course was. I’m not complaining.”
His only complaint, really, was a short sprinkle of rain that threatened to slicken the course - but only briefly.
“I didn’t like the rain we had,” Burke said. “I had a run there and it (the wet road) kind of made me hesitate a little bit.”
His son, Connor Burke, didn’t delay at all. He set the record in the Formula Atlantic division of the race by zooming up the hill in 42.166 seconds.
“We’re having a blast up here,” John Burke said, adding that he set his sights on the course record but “I didn’t want to be presumptuous. I just wanted to run as hard as we can and that (the record) can happen.”
Top 12 Times
1. John Burke`Rumson, N.J.`’97 Reynard Champ Car`Special 3`38.599
2. Connor Burke`Rumson, N.J.`’04 Swift 014`Formula Atlantic`42.166
3. Bob Gardner`Neward, Del.`’06 Stohr`Prototype 1`43.590
4. Darryl Danko`Laurel Run`Jedi`Special 2`43.884
5. Charles King`Bethlehem`’99 Chevy Pickup`Special 3`44.310
6. Steve Lewis`Perkiomenville`04 Ford Mach 1`Street Mod`44.540
7. Dan Reed“Corvette`Super Street Mod`45.035
8. Bill Feist“’96 Van Dieman FC`Formula Continental`45.072
9. Kurt Elkenberg“Prince`Prototype 1`45.124
10. Mike Wilson“Camaro`GT-2`45.164
11. Jack Danko`Laurel Run`Radical C Sports Racer`Prototype 1`45.243
12. Christopher King`Bethlehem`’99 Chevy Pickup`Special 3`45.445