At 15, Rising Fast on Virginia Raceways

Dave Daniels moved to Legends Cars racing after winning 33 of 49 go-kart contests over two years. His car can reach 130 mph.
Dave Daniels moved to Legends Cars racing after winning 33 of 49 go-kart contests over two years. His car can reach 130 mph. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2006

PlayStations, video iPods, camera phones -- Santa can keep 'em. What budding race car driver Dave Daniels really wanted for Christmas was a HANS device.

"H-A-N-S," said Dave, 15, seated at the kitchen table in his family's Woodbridge home. "It's an expensive piece of equipment, but it'll save your life." Molded from high-tech carbon fiber, a HANS (head and neck support) device is essentially a seat belt for the head, Dave explained, protecting a driver's neck from a fatal case of whiplash in a high-speed crash. The cost?

"It's about $1,000," he said.

Dave's mother, Janie Daniels, was listening from the living room. "You can't put a price tag on safety," she said.

So as gift requests go, the HANS was a good bet. After all, Mom and Dad are unlikely to skimp on safety these days, because in April, Dave -- who is not yet eligible for a Virginia driver's license -- will start whipping around the track at Manassas's Old Dominion Speedway pushing 90 mph.

Santa came through with the HANS.

The Potomac High School sophomore has had a distinguished, if brief, racing career. Over the past two years, he has won 33 of 49 kart-racing contests, dusting other adolescents in a souped-up red go-kart that looks like a Pixar creation, sans the talking grille and bulging eyes.

But now that Dave is 15 and old enough to shave, he's moving on to Legends Cars, miniaturized rocket-boxes modeled after classic vehicles such as a 1934 Ford hot rod. Dave's has a distinctly modern Yamaha motorcycle engine. On a straightaway, it'll do 130.

Whoa, not so fast, say Dave's parents, who aren't handing over the keys to the $17,000 machine that easily. For one, Dave must complete 1,000 laps in his blue No. 52 Legends Car before he can compete (he's up to 440). More importantly, his grades can't come in second to the speedway.

"There are a lot of stipulations," Janie Daniels said. "He has to maintain good grades, do his chores."

At school, Dave said he doesn't talk much about racing or boast to other kids who have never felt the G-forces. For the most part, they don't understand the sport, he said. "They have this stereotype that it's a redneck thing," he said. "But you have to be an intellectual. You have to know what you're doing."

"If he gets two C's, we don't race," said his father and crew chief, Mike Daniels, owner of Daniels Auto Care in Dumfries. "It's a tool for us. This is the carrot to keep him out of trouble."

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