BUCKHANNON – Dirt track driving is so much more than hitting the gas pedal and turning left. Upshur County is the home to a number of dirt track race car drivers who find themselves at Elkins Raceway week after week.
Buckhannon native Daniel Helmick is no stranger to strapping into a roaring race car. With 18 years of driving under his belt, let’s reflect on the past, present and future of the Helmick Racing team.
“Racing is not as easy as people think it is. It’s not as simple as going out there and turning left, hitting the gas and hitting the brake,” Helmick said. “It’s much more than that.”
This story begins in 2004 as Daniel assisted a neighbor with the maintenance of his race car. Week after week, Daniel shadowed J.R. Messenger as the crew chief. At the conclusion of the 2005 racing season, Messenger pulled the car into the garage, saying the car was now Daniel’s.
Daniel and his father, Kevin, then created the Helmick Racing Team in 2005 with the help of J.R. Messenger and Delora Brown.
The fall of 2005 was the first mile marker of when Daniel was diagnosed with the irreversible and – quite frankly – the undeniable racing fever. He spent that winter tuning the car to his exact liking in preparation for the 2006 racing season.
In 2006, Daniel’s first time behind the wheel on a track was at the ripe age of 14 years old. Like any 14-year-old would be, Daniel was a nervous wreck while competing against seasoned drivers who were much more experienced than him.
“I drove the car around the yard a few times, but driving around the yard and strapping in to go on a race track are two different things,” Helmick laughed. “When you’re brand new, you think you know everything. You find out really quick that that’s not the case.”
Flash forward to 2019, when Daniel’s father, Kevin, passed away tragically. This turned the lives of the Helmick family upside down. With his father’s funeral in less than 24 hours, Daniel mustered up the courage to strap into his race seat once again in memory of his late father.
Family members emotionally watched on as Daniel circled the track with the American flag in hand, during the singing of the National Anthem.
“In some weird way, this was a healing moment,” Helmick said. “I can hardly talk about it, but other than my first win, this was probably my best memory [in the history of Helmick Racing].”
That evening marked the first time his mother, Darlene Boyd, and uncle, Rick Boyd, found themselves cheering from inside the pits. Daniel confessed their attendance was the only way he could make it through that emotional evening.
Daniel decided, leading up to the 2022 racing season, that the best way to honor his father was to recreate the last car his father drove at Elkins Raceway. With similar decals displayed across the sheet metal panels of his Hot Mod, Daniel brought this idea to life.
With family and racing fans eagerly watching on, Daniel – after 16 years of perseverance – won his first-ever feature race at Elkins Raceway on June 4, 2022 in that same memorial car. That first win was an evening full of humbled tears and pride from all who just witnessed a special moment in history.
Daniel passed under the checkered flag in the 15th lap, hitting the steering wheel in utter excitement and shock with the thought that This one was for Dad! at the back of his mind.
“I was shocked. I still can’t believe it,” Helmick said. “You try and try and try and try for 16 years, then it finally comes together. That was the longest 15 laps I think I’ve ever run.”
The winning streak did not end there. Daniel won a second time in that same car on July 3, 2022.
“Every race I went to, I would go to the fence in the grandstands and shake the fence,” Darlene Boyd, Daniel’s mother, laughed. “I always wanted him to hit the fence when he played baseball growing up, but not hit the fence when driving his race car. I want him to remember I will always be there shaking the fences for him.”
When asked what she thought of her dad’s continued efforts on and off the track, Daniel’s 9-year-old daughter, Macie, enthusiastically says this: “He’s good at it!”
Since that win, much has changed in Daniel’s personal life. Toward the end of the 2022 racing season, Daniel was diagnosed with cancer. In addition to other unforeseen circumstances occurring simultaneously, Daniel made the heartbreaking decision to sell his race car and all racing equipment – with a few weeks of racing still open on the calendar – in order to focus solely on beating his diagnosis.
That period of time still remains a sensitive topic in the Helmick household, Daniel said. As each week passed not being behind the wheel, it broke the hearts of the entire family. However, recovery was the most important thing on everyone’s minds.
“Being a wife of a dirt track driver can be scary, but rewarding at the same time,” said Ashley Helmick, Daniel’s wife. “Watching him work so hard and get enjoyment out of doing something he loves makes it worthwhile.”
Now with a cancer-free diagnosis since the spring of 2023, Daniel and his pit crew are encouraged to get back out there and compete as fiercely as before his diagnosis.
“In past years, I took better care of my car than I did myself, most of the time. I honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing about my racing story,” Helmick said.
Daniel would like to give a special shoutout to all of his supporters who continue to support Helmick Racing every week: his mother Darlene Boyd, his wife Ashley Helmick, his children Macie and Audie, and all his family members and friends; especially Michael Moreland, Duane Moreland, and Dusty Harper.
Also, a huge thank you goes out to the Helmick Racing sponsors Mountaineer Military Museum, Forever Snapshots and Hoy’s Construction Company – Solid Rock Concrete for supporting the future of this racing team.