Photography / Provided
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Derek Daly remembers the exact day he found out why he was born. Spoiler alert: He was born to race cars.
Growing up in Dublin, Ireland, he loved everything about cars, the motors, the wheels, and the mechanics but there was no racetrack in Ireland, so he raced soapbox derby cars. Until the day that changed everything.
By the age of 12, a set of circumstances came together that would change the trajectory of his life. While walking home from school, a Sidney Taylor Racing truck was sitting in the driveway of his neighbor. Sidney was the neighbor’s brother. Derek’s father had arranged to take him to see the car. And when he learned Sidney would be racing in the streets that night, his father promised to take him to the race.
“Everything about the race, the colors, the noise, the smells that I experienced that day, I told my father, I am going to become a professional race car driver,” Derek says.
His parents were extremely generous with their love, support and encouraging him to follow his dreams, but they did not have the means to support him financially. But when you have a date with destiny, your objective is simply just to do whatever it takes to make things happen.
Derek started with go-karting, moving on to a dirt oval track where they raced demolition derby-jalopy racing. When he turned 16, he built his own car and his Dad would tow him on a rope across town.
But to move up to Formula Ford level, the objective was to raise money or make money. He chose to put his own fate in his own hands and worked for six months in the Australian Iron-Ore Mines and made enough money to buy the car. He returned home racing in Ireland and won the Irish Championship.
But with each level of success, there was the next level of financial commitment. He knew that if he wanted to be a professional that he had to move to England. But again, resources were tight, and he says, “I had enough money to race or to live, but not both.” But when you want something badly enough, you don’t make excuses you make plans.
Plan B was to buy an old school bus. His mother made curtains and his father made a mattress for him to sleep on. “So, I moved to England with a toolbox, a race car and a school bus. My goal was to make enough money to drive to the next race.” And all he did was win, win, win.
He won 23 races in England and with the recognition of hard work and grit, he was approached by his first Irish sponsor. Having a sponsor would then allow him to move up to the next level. The money would allow him to move up to Formula 3 and race across Europe, Italy, France, Germany, Austria as well as the British Formula 3 Championship. The odds of him winning the Championship were statistically very low, but if he did, it would allow him to open the door to Formula One.
Derek not only won the British Formula 3 Championship, but he beat Emerson Fitipaldi’s record for moving from Formula Ford to Formula One in 18 months to just 13 months for him. In a bit of irony, the man that offered to put him in a Formula One car was Sidney Taylor.
After racing Formula One for a while, he received an invitation to drive in his first Indy Car Race in Phoenix, Arizona. “A year later, I decided to come try out for the Indianapolis 500 and I never left. I loved it. I loved the country and started a new lifestyle and a new life,” Derek says.
Turns out when you pursue your purpose, things work out most of the time. He received a contract with Tony Bettenhausen and qualified for his first race in the front row with Mario Andretti.
The following year, he was involved in a horrific crash that nearly killed him. He endured 14 surgeries was out of racing for two and a half years before returning full time in 1987. That is when the luck of the Irish smiled down on him once again.
“During an interview, I accidentally turned it into a 10-year contract with ESPN to serve as their color analyst,” he says. Derek was later recognized as the most popular motorsports television announcer.
By the time his son Conor had his first birthday, Derek was finished with his racing career. Sons Christian, and Colin would soon join the “team” already in progress. Through Derek’s broadcast career, the boys were immersed in racing, so he was careful to not impose the sport on them. Conor, now a successful driver himself, was the one that asked his father if he could try go-karting and is a successful race car driver.
Colin was a competitive diver, competed in wakeboarding and eventually turned to lacrosse. He went to business school and played lacrosse on a college scholarship. Christian raced go-karts for a little while, but wasn’t that interested but, once he got on the water, Jet Ski racing became his focus. Christian is currently on a racing team in Florida that is like the Penske of Jet Ski racing. He has won four world championships including the King’s Race in Thailand and was the first American to do so. He opened a new smoothie store at Keystone at the Crossing in May called The Daily Dose.
Derek spent his entire career doing the work he loves and when you have the freedom to chase your dreams it is bound to impact your family. There is likely no greater satisfaction in life than to figure out your why, to live out your purpose, and to inspire others to do the same.
For more information about Derek at www.derekdaly.com