Darrell Nelson, aka the Hermantown Hammer, is in the midst of one of the greatest racing careers in Twin Ports history – and shows no signs of slowing down in a career that started in 1985.
His resume includes prestigious invitational wins at Red Clay Classic at ABC Raceway in Ashland, Wis., the Hibbing Labor Day Shootout, the Punky Manor Challenge of Champions at Red Cedar Speedway in Wisconsin, the Northern Nationals at Gondik Law Speedway in Superior, Wis., and the Silver 1000 at Halvor Lines Speedway in Proctor (three late model and six modified wins). Not to mention hundreds of feature wins and track championships.
Since 2017 alone, he has 69 feature wins, racing in the Wissota Modified and Late Model divisions. Nelson will be racing both cars at the Masters at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., this week.
“Good guys helping me, and knowing what I need when I’m out there, something that I can’t see,” Nelson said. “I’ve been doing it so long; we don’t get crazy on setups. MB Customs builds both of my cars, and they drive so nice. That makes my job easier. A lot of the success is the cars as well.”
The 2022 season was another big year for Nelson, particularly in the late model. He had 15 wins in the two cars combined. That included late model wins at the Red Clay Classic in Ashland, the Northern Nationals in Superior and the second night of the Hibbing Labor Day Shootout. He was third in challenge series points and had two wins on the tour.
“Last year we had a heck of a year,” Nelson said. “It was just phenomenal wherever we went. Things worked out our way. They’re all good wins when you win.”
His career started in the street stock class, and from there he moved into the modified class. Eventually, he added a late model to his stable and has been doing double duty for several years.
There is an adjustment racing the two cars on a regular basis, but it’s a challenge Nelson embraces.
“Steering-wise, these rack-and-pinion late models steer so much nicer, and the brakes are so much better,” Nelson said. “The biggest thing is if I race my late model first and then get into my modified, I’m kind of oversteering it. It’s something you get used to, that’s why I still do it.”
Nelson, 54, says the support of family and fans are a big reason he is still enjoys racing after nearly four decades behind the wheel.
“My boy, my wife, my daughter – they want me to do it forever,” Nelson said.
His son, Cade, is in his first season in the USRA Late Model class after a successful go-kart career.
“He was very successful in go-karting,” Nelson said. “The USRA Late Model is kind of cool, it’s same car as this, just a littler engine. They steer so much nicer. Hopefully he’ll continue to be successful, stay out of trouble and drive good.”
There’s also the matter of the nickname – the Hammer – which has been around a while, thanks to a pit man giving him the name many years ago.
“My pit guy, Hot Rod named me,” Nelson said. “We were in Florida, we had some shirts made down there. My boy is racing now and he’s the Little Hammer and he thinks it’s as cool as heck.”
He’s currently second in the Structural Buildings Wissota Late Model Challenge Series points, just eight points behind Pat Doar. He has five top five finishes in six tour starts.
“We’re consistent. We might not be winning, but we’re going to keep plugging away and hoping they’ll come,” Nelson said. “Everybody’s fast nowadays. There’s nobody slow. All the cars are so close.”
Nelson’s goal is to win the challenge series title, which would be the second of his career. He has seven series wins, including the points championship in 2021.
“We want to win the challenge series. I’d really like to win it.,” Nelson said. “And just pick off some feature wins and some big shows. (I want to) just run good, be there, make my sponsors proud and do the best I can.”
Wissota Late Model and Modified #44
Residence: Hermantown, Minn.
Sponsors: KIVI Trucking, Willow River Saloon, CMD Race Shocks, MB Customs, Dave’s Automatic Transmission, Dave Lucia Trucking, Badger Excavating, Amsoil, Tarnowski Bros. Construction, Twin Ports Collision Repair, Skip’s Performance, Jig Signs