No slowing down: Shoff continues racing career at 73
At 73, while many of his former Tri-State College classmates enjoy hobbies like golf or fishing in retirement, Darryl Shoff gets in a race car 10 to 12 times a year to go toe-to-toe on some of the nation’s top tracks.
“At my age, it’s one of the few things I can do that will make me feel alive,” he said. “It also makes me go to the gym to keep in shape. And I enjoy the challenge of still being able to beat some of these young guys.”
The 1970 graduate currently and primarily races in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Majors series, driving the Elan DP-02 he has raced for the past several years. Depending on track and weather conditions, he said, the car can reach 160 miles per hour.
“It’s a fun series and we get to race on the country’s finest road circuits: Sebring, Florida; Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas; Road America, Wisconsin; Leguna Seca, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Indianapolis; Daytona, Florida; Mosport, Ontario, Canada; Road Atlanta, Georgia; and Barber Motorsports Park, Alabama, to name a few,” he said.
His racing career started at age 12 when his father bought him a go-kart. “A jack of all trades” as a farmer, his dad acted as mechanic and crew chief for Darryl’s races.
“Those are the things a dad does when you’re 12 years old,” Darryl said. “In our area of south central Pennsylvania, we got to race on dirt and paved ovals and typical road courses. A lot of fun for a youngster.”
As time went on, he developed interests in other sports and his racing career waned. After graduating from Tri-State with a general business degree, he launched “a demanding career that left little time and even less funds to go racing.”
He went to work as an estimator for a large contractor in Reading, Pennsylvania. Eventually he founded his own construction companies and also an aviation company, Aerodynamics of Reading.
“Most of all I’ve been an entrepreneur, I guess,” he commented.
As his career progressed, he was able to find the time and finances to race again. He got started back in racing between 20 and 30 years ago when, at the urging of some friends, he attended the Bertil Roos Racing School, an open-wheel driving school in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. He later attended the Russell Racing School in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.
He obtained his novice permit, then his regional license and eventually his professional permit.
He began racing in an open-wheel formula Ford, and then a Sports 2000, “essentially a formula car with body work covering the wheels.” He also has raced an SCCA Spec Racer, World Sportscar, Mazda Miata and Porsche 911.
“These cars have much different personalities regarding the driving style, but hitting your marks on each turn for every lap of the race remains the challenge: braking point, turn in point, apex, exit edge — four points to each turn,” he said.
“A track like Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin has 14 turns. If you’re off one-tenth of a second per turn, you are losing 1.4 seconds per lap. At an average speed of 100 mph, you are losing about 150 feet per lap. When you blink your eyes that is about two-tenths of a second. It is a very precise sport.”
He competes in about 10 to 12 races each year, and won the Prototype 1 class of the Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour in 2018. He said one of his favorite memories was the first time he qualified for a race at the pole position.
“It was an SCCA National race at Pocono in the rain,” he recalled. “We beat the best Sports 2000 drivers in the Northeast at that time.”
He always has raced as an amateur, although he has competed against professional drivers. In 2012, he was part of a team of drivers that competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona race, a 24-hour sports car endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.
“I was sitting next to Juan Pablo Montoya in the drivers’ meeting wondering what I was doing there,” he said. “But even if you’re an amateur, if you are qualified and have a good record, they respect you. The more cars with qualified drivers, the better the show is.”
Though his competition includes racers as young as 18, with many in their 40s, Darryl said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“I’ve been retiring for the last 10 years,” he joked. “When you make so many friends, it’s hard to give up. So many are from other countries that once you stop racing you’ll never see them again.”
“Most of my favorite memories are fun things that happened off the race track with members of our team, or interactions with other drivers and their crews,” he said. “In general, teams have a lot of respect for each other.”
His fraternity brothers from Alpha Sigma Phi often will come watch Darryl race, and he was surprised when Frank Hall 1970 BSBA, a Kappa Sig, and his brother showed up to watch him earlier this year at Sebring.
“I knew Frank through the annual Sig Cup golf competition,” he said.
He said although people may think driving 160 miles per hour is dangerous, he feels the average person has more to worry about on their drive to the grocery store.
“Everyone I am driving with is qualified, and there are no drunk drivers or stop lights,” he said. “Racing is a lot different than driving on the highway, where 50 percent of the people are clueless.”
Top photo: Darryl Shoff prepares to race in the Elan DP02 prototype he has driven for the past few years. His race team is managed by Comprent Motor Sports in Athens, Georgia. Comprent Motor Sports prepares the cars, delivers them to the track and provides race support, including mechanics, a race engineer, truck driver, crew chief and assistants.