Doug Delfel sped through the intersection at Evergreen Speedway. He was in his early 20s, pushing his limits, trying to reach the finish line first. And then he got crushed on his driver’s side door.
His windshield, glass in those days, was shattered to bits. Delfel lost consciousness, but not before realizing that the water from his radiator was burning him. He escaped without any real injuries, but it was a nasty accident, and he decided he’d had enough of Figure Eight racing. That was about 25 years ago.
Today, Delfel will go for his fourth-straight win of the season at the track where he is regarded as one of the top drivers of all-time.
“I was sure I was done,” said Delfel, a 48-year-old graduate of Mariner High School who lives in Everett with his wife and two kids. “I said, ‘This is it, I’m not doing it anymore.’”
So what happened? Well, Joe Larsen, the owner of Al’s Lynnwood Truck Parts, told Delfel if he would race just one more time, then Larsen would cover the costs.
“He didn’t want me to leave because I was scared,” Delfel said. “I guess maybe it’s his fault I’m still doing this.”
What is it that Delfel’s doing?
In his 32nd year of competing at Evergreen, he’s showing he can still make a run at a championship. Delfel won his first Super Figure 8 title in 1999, his 25th season at the track. Three years later, he won his second. The last couple of years, he’s only raced part time, but he’s back to a mostly full schedule this year. With his three wins the past three weeks, he’s up to sixth in the point standings, 81 points behind defending champion Steve Peters. But he said he’s not consciously chasing the championship.
“I’ve found that anytime I chase anything, it’s hard to catch,” said Delfel, who owns D&D Transport Tow Company in Everett. “If I do the best I can, whatever happens happens. It’s not that I wouldn’t mind winning another championship, but I’m not looking for it.”
Delfel wasn’t even looking for a racing career when he started competing at Evergreen as a 16-year-old. He didn’t take racing seriously, and didn’t race a full schedule until 1977, his fourth year at the track., he said.
“I figured I’d do it for a couple of years and then do something different,” Delfel said. “I never had any goals to be a big-time racer. I just wanted to try it and then try something else.”
It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, Delfel has become one of Evergreen’s most recognized drivers. He was inducted into the FEAR (Figure Eight Auto Racing) Hall of Fame. The track retired his No. 01 car. He was president of FEAR for three years. In 1999, he broke the FEAR speed record with a time of 17.245 seconds, and that was on the unpaved track (it was later broken when the track was paved). He was voted as one of Evergreen’s 50 greatest drivers.
“If I couldn’t race anymore, if it ended right now, it would be OK,” Delfel said. “The people at Evergreen have done quite a bit for me, and I’ve had a great time and done a lot. It’s more than I could have wanted.”
Of course, since he’s still going strong, he might as well try to add to his accomplishments. And it’s quite a streak he’s on. Three weeks ago, he started mid-pack, but avoided a mess and led for much of the race. Two weeks ago, he couldn’t get out of fourth until the last corner of the last lap, when the three cars in front of him spun out and he got the win. Last week, Delfel said, he was “just faster.”
“It’s been luck, lots of luck,” Delfel said. “But we’re having a lot of fun.”
So how much longer will Delfel continue? Racing is getting more and more expensive, and his body doesn’t react the way it used to. He said he isn’t setting a time line, and will just race as long as it’s still fun.
“I’m afraid if I quit, then if I wanted to come back I wouldn’t be competitive,” Delfel said. “Every year I think about quitting. I’ve done this longer than most people have a job. In the next couple of years, maybe I’ll grow up and figure out it’s time to quit. But that’s sort of like admitting you’re getting a little older and can’t do the things you used to do. I don’t have as much energy to work on the car, and I don’t get as excited to get out early to the track. But once I’m there, I’m still having fun, and I guess as long as I have that feeling, I’ll keep going out there.”