Tony Stewart, Shirley Muldowney Honored By The Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis

Darrell Gwynn was introduced to the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis in 1989. His racing career was thriving, being sponsored by Coors Brewing and living the life of a NHRA drag racer.

As the folks at Coors Brewing and himself aimed to develop a charity program based on the team’s winnings, they agreed to partner with The Miami Project, co-founded by Dr. Barth A. Green, a world-renowned neurosurgeon, and Nick Buoniconti, a NFL Hall of Fame linebacker after Nick’s son, Marc, sustained a spinal cord injury during a college football game.

A few months later, Gwynn himself was in a violent crash while piloting a NHRA Top Fuel dragster. His life change immediately. Gwynn was paralyzed in the incident and ever since, he’s spent the last three-plus decades of his life raising awareness about paralysis.

“A lot of nights, I was sitting and thinking about how all of this is meant to be and what it was meant for,” Gwynn said. “There was obviously a plan, and I’m trying to make the best of the situation.”

In Gwynn’s unique life story, he’s worked with racecar drivers from across the globe to raise awareness. He’s one of the most well-known figures in motor sports and he’s often meeting with racers to talk about safety.

This week, Gwynn’s two worlds collided as three-time Nascar Cup Series champion and co-owner of the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) Tony Stewart and the First Lady of Drag Racing Shirley Muldowney were honored by The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project, at its 37th annual Great Sports Legends Dinner.

“My connection to The Buoniconti Fund comes from Darrell Gwynn,” Stewart said in a pre-recorded speech. “Darrell was a hell of a drag racer, but then he had a really bad crash back in 1990 that left him paralyzed. The tenacity Darrell showed every time he got in a dragster remained. He’s dedicated himself to finding a cure for paralysis and helping others.

“Darrell is an inspiration and so is Sam Schmidt, an IndyCar driver I competed with who also had a bad crash that left him paralyzed. I’m continuously amazed by their can-do attitude and spirit.”

Gwynn, who ran the Darrell Gwynn Foundation until 2012, merged his nonprofit with The Miami Project. Together, they have grown to have a major precense in dozens of sports. Former NFL star Edgerrin James and Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn were among those honored this week by The Buoniconti Fund.

“It could happen to anybody,” Gwynn said about working with different athletes. “We’re all like minded in that regard, and we like to help each other. People like Tony Stewart and Shirley Muldowney are just two of the athletes who were honored.”

Prior to the annual dinner, Gwynn traveled to Homestead to see his Nascar family.

Gwynn said, “There was a driver who got hurt recently, DJ VanderLey, and he’s close with a lot of Nascar drivers. He’s close with Tony Stewart as an engineer for Stewart-Haas Racing. He got hurt in a dirt car a couple of months ago.

“They wanted to know how he was doing because he has a similar injury to mine and not that any two injuries are the same, but it’s a similar injury. It’s a big family out here, and we’re all concerned about each other. Christopher Bell was asking about him. It’s a large community, but at the same time, it’s a small community when somebody gets hurt.”

As Gwynn, Stewart and other athletes — active and retired — continue to spread awareness about spinal cord injuries, the goal remains the same and that is to find a cure for paralysis.