Clovis News: Sports

Ex-Clovis racer battles cancer

Former sprint car driver Dallen McKenney of Clovis, two years removed from surviving a near-fatal accident, is again fighting for his life.

McKenney has been diagnosed with leukemia and is undergoing blood transfusions at Saint Agnes Medical Center, said his father, Roy McKenney.

"Here he is living a normal life back with his family," Roy McKenney said, "and we're thinking praise God, we've got this behind us. Then the hammer drops again."

Roy McKenney said his 41-year-old son went to the doctor last week complaining of flulike symptoms. Two days later, he was in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

"We don't know the strain of the disease yet. Dallen might need a bone-marrow transplant and he'll be in the hospital the next six or seven weeks," Roy McKenney said.

Leukemia is cancer of the blood and bone marrow, according to the American Cancer Society. The disease causes the white blood cell count to drastically rise and is usually accompanied by anemia, impaired blood clotting and enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver and spleen.

Friends of Dallen McKenney will hold a blood replacement drive from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Garfield Elementary School cafeteria in Clovis.

Brian Christie, who has known McKenney since they were toddlers, was shocked by the news, but said his best friend is a fighter.

" 'Why?' is what we keep asking," said Christie, a crew member on McKenney's car. "He was doing great after the accident, getting better every month. It's real shocking this happened.

"Ever since I've known Dallen, though, he's had a way of putting pain to the wayside and moving forward. It helped him recover from the accident and it probably is now. He makes it sound like it's no big deal."

Kingsburg's Tanner Swanson drove the black No. 88 McKenney car owned by Roy McKenney last year after Dallen McKenney's open-wheel crash. He won four of eight races in it.

"Dallen is physically strong, and his family is deeply religious," Swanson said. "They believe no matter what God throws at him, it's for a reason and they'll put their heads down and move on."

McKenney was hospitalized and in a coma for five weeks after an open-wheel sprint-car accident Sept. 20, 2008, at Madera Speedway. He soon retired from racing but remained involved in the sport, setting up his sons' cars. Dustyn, 9, and Carson, 6, drive quarter-midgets, and Dustyn recently got into junior sprints.

"Dallen did everything for them," Roy McKenney said. "His first priority is his family."

Dallen McKenney's racing career -- motocross, mini sprints, sprint cars -- had been paved with obstacles.

At age 19, he crashed his dirt bike. The result was a collapsed lung and broken rib cage. He spent four days in intensive care.

"If you didn't break a bone every season, you weren't trying hard enough," McKenney told The Bee in a 2003 story on his switch from motocross to USAC Midgets.

But that crash was tame compared to McKenney's horrific accident in 2008 during a BCRA Midgets feature. His car hooked wheels with leader Chad Nichols and McKenney's car flipped and smashed into a wall.

Roy McKenney said his son had a collapsed lung and broken neck, shoulder blade and vertebrae. Dallen McKenney was supposed to be in a coma seven weeks, but came out of it two weeks earlier than expected and immediately began the recovery process.

"Doctors said Dallen might not survive, and if he did he might not be normal," the father said. "They thought he'd be a brain rehab patient for two years. He's our miracle boy. God has a plan for everybody, but this latest one is hard to figure out."