Getting Up To Speed With…Danny O’Neil Jr.
By Ben Deatherage
(Photo Courtesy of Ken O’Neil)
Today we got a chance to talk to one of Sunset Speedway Park’s veteran drivers, Danny O’Neil Jr. The third generation racer, from Vancouver, Washington, is in hopes of capturing his first career championship in 2014 after over twenty years of trying. O’Neil also plans to get the fourth generation of his family legacy started as his nephew Cody Hurst looks to make his debut in the Pure Stock division.
Through his years of racing Danny O’Neil Jr. has won Rookie of the Year Awards at Portland Speedway in the Jalopies and Limited Sportsman divisions as well as the same award at River City Speedway (in St. Helens) in the 4-Cylinders and in the Street Stocks at Sunset. In addition to winning rookies of the year honors at Portland in the Jalopy and Limited Sportsman ranks he would also win the Most Improved Driver award the very same year in those classes.
He plans to compete fulltime in the Street Stock ranks at SSP this season contingent on sponsorship. We asked Danny of his involvement in the sport of racing and how he got started and more. We hope you enjoy this piece. So let’s get up to speed with Danny O’Neil Jr.
Driver: Danny O’Neil Jr.
Home Track: Sunset Speedway Park
Hometown: Vancouver, WA
Age: 45 Years
Classification: Street Stocks
Team: Earnest Racing
Car Number: 96
Car: 1977 Chevy Monte Carlo
Sponsors: Eric’s Frame Shop, All-American Classics, Sign Of The Times, Tom’s Performance, Jenner Racing, Extreme Auto Repair, Liberty Welding, Cottmans Transmissions
Special Thanks: Payton O’Neil (Daughter), Tammy O’Neil (Wife), Loomis Racing, Danny O’Neil Sr. (Dad), Rocky O’Neil (Uncle), Cody Hurst (Nephew), Charlie Weaver
BD: What are some of your plans for the 2014 season?
DO: Well I’d really like to help my nephew Cody Hurst out and get him going in a Pure Stock since they brought that class back. But I would really like to win the Street Stock championship I’ve won a lot of trophies but never a championship. Really it all comes down to if I can get enough sponsors to run all year long in the Street Stocks.
BD: Talking to you before this interview you were telling me you help a lot of other drivers out. Who are some of the teams you’ve helped?
DO: The teams I’ve been on are a real good combination of good help from driver to crew. I’m a firm believer of the phrase that “there is no I in team”. I’ve helped out the Neusoms, Ed Bruce, John Henry, and the Jenner’s with their Modifieds. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of some good teams winning eight championship over the years with them between the tracks of Sunset and St. Helens.
I helped participate in the racing career and championship of Craig Loomis. Craig and I raced against each other in the Jalopies back in 1990 at Portland and I helped work on his cars in the late 1990’s. He and I worked together and built a car and he would go on to win championships. In fact my paint scheme is a complete flip flop of his.
The Jenner’s have also been a big part in my life. Don helped me with everything I know about Modifieds and even let my drive his car a couple of times. We’ve been best friends for the last six years.
BD: The Street Stock drivers at Banks are some of the fastest that I’ve ever seen and put on some good shows. They really don’t handout any wins in those classes do they?
DO: I would agree with that. I think it’s a class full of hard chargers. Drivers like Marc Farrar, Tony Catalano, Brian Rhoden, Craig Loomis, Robert Summerhalder, John Ireland, and some others are a good group of guys.
BD: Racing seems to be a big part of the O’Neil family. What got you guys hooked in the first place?
DO: My grandpa and my dad started it. My grandpa “Papa” Don O’Neil raced for a number of year back in the 1970’s and so did my dad, Danny Sr., they both raced on dirt and pavement at the local tracks. I brought my dad back into to racing at Portland in 2000 and he just retired in 2012.
Dad still does push trucks and I’m out there on nights I’m not racing. My cousin Kenny O’Neil is the photographer out there too and he does a great job.
BD: Is there a story to you being #96?
DO: It’s a family number. My grandpa’s number was #096 and dad’s was #96. I took the #96 over from my dad in 1989 and when he came back out he was #5.
BD: We talked about your family’s racing past but how about you. When did you start racing yourself? DO: I started in 1989 in Jalopies and ran them for a number of years and then moved into the Limited Sportsman class at Portland in the 90’s. When Portland shut down we searched for some tracks to run at.
We ran South Sound Speedway (in Tenino, Washington) some and eventually raced at St. Helens. I liked running dirt so I built a 4-Cylinder truck for me and some of my family members. We did that until 2005 and we moved on to the Street Stocks and have been at Sunset ever since.
BD: A fact some people may not know is that you used to race against the current SSP Announcer/Race Director Charlie Weaver back in the day.
DO: Yes and Charlie’s a great guy. Him and I used to race when Portland Speedway was still around. He’s also a pretty good announcer too he makes sure that all my sponsors are being mentioned. I think it’s pretty cool that he cares about the small potato guys like me.
Sunset Speedway Park enters the 2014 season with an action packed schedule that you do not want to miss out on. The first event of the season is a test and tune play day scheduled to take place on Saturday April 5th while the first race of the year will be held on the 19th. To get the latest information and read the most recent stories regarding SSP log on to www.sunsetspeedwaypark.com.