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Racing Down the Road to Recovery: The David Anderson Story

David Anderson and his father Malcolm celebrate the pole-position at the 2014 ASN Canadian National Karting Championships - Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN

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Racing Down the Road to Recovery: The David Anderson Story

Reader discretion is advised: This article contains strong graphic language that may not be suitable for everyone, especially those under the age of 18.


“This piece is dedicated to my brother Douglas, who passed away from a crippling heroin addiction in 1997.”

“Words can’t describe how big of a personal accomplishment this is for me.” This revelation came from Dave Anderson after completing an exhaustingly close race for the win at this summer’s Le Monaco de Trois Rivieres. “At the end of the day whether it’s your job or racing – hard work always pays off.”

Make no mistake, Dave is no stranger to hard work. Many of the newcomers in the current crop of young karting drivers may have started to take notice with the Briggs and Stratton Master’s pilot, Dave Anderson. He seemingly snuck onto the National stage without any warning and exploded onto the podiums with fast laps and race wins under his belt in a few, short, remarkable months. Much of the older generation of drivers and tuners will be familiar with Dave from his earlier racing days as a Sr, Heavy driver, piloting a Gold brand chassis, for most of his karting career.

“In 1996 I got my first brand new chassis…my dad surprised me at Christmas with a new one.” This Gold Kart would not only carry him to multiple victories over his young career, but also helped build up a rivalry between Dave and acclaimed driver now tuner Kyle Herder.

2003 was a turning point for Dave – at the age of 19, he was cast into the adult world, admittedly, with mixed emotions.

Racing together for many years, Dave finally got the chance to outrun Kyle to the checkered flag at Goodwood Kartways in May 2002. “It was the most gratifying victory for me because I tried for years to beat Kyle…I always looked up to Kyle and to this day I give him a ton of credit for making me a better driver.”

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David Anderson circa 1998 powering his Gold Kart. (Photo courtesy: Malcolm Anderson)

A fierce sprint to the championship saw Dave beating out Kyle for the Sr. Heavy title at Goodwood Kartways and ended the 2002 season on a high note for the young driver.

2003 was a turning point for Dave – at the age of 19, he was cast into the adult world, admittedly, with mixed emotions. With karting behind him, Dave was faced with the daunting, and very uncertain task, of what to do for the next part of his life. Unable to afford a post-secondary education, he eventually found a job to help cover some of his new expenses and fresh challenges that lay ahead.

As 2004 rang in, Dave realized that there was something missing in his life. The natural ecstasy that he had experienced behind the wheel was now vacant, and for more than a year, Dave had been feeling the effects – the emptiness. Feeling emotionally unsatisfied, Dave realized that since exiting from karting, the most emotionally and professionally fulfilling part of his life, had also disappeared. Looking back, he admits that he felt troubled…like something was missing in his life. He explains, “ I felt lost; and I was angry with myself for not being able to afford more…I was angry at a lot then.”

Eventually, one of his co-workers took notice of his recent zombified appearance and handed him a strange pill, promising Dave that any negative effects would disappear.

By the time he turned 20, Dave had made many new friends and became a lot closer with his co-workers. He began drinking heavily at bars and clubs, searching for that one thing that brought him back to the feeling of standing on top of the podium. Lost and miserable, his new found friends would eventually provide the boost in dopamine that would help him alleviate some of his troubling symptoms. “The first hard drug I was introduced to was cocaine,” Dave explains, and upon reflection, he sees this as a pivotal moment that would eventually lead him down a dangerous path.

As weeks passed, David was now feeling the effects of a hard partying lifestyle. Hungover, tired and feeling “sketched out” from cocaine binges Dave felt sick and disconnected from reality. Eventually, one of his co-workers took notice of his recent zombified appearance and handed him a strange pill, promising Dave that any negative effects would disappear. Tired and miserable, he didn’t question what the little pill was and instead, instilled his trust in the judgment of his co-worker; he placed the pill on his tongue and felt the fog in his mind disappear. Dave had just ingested the highly potent painkiller, Percocet.

Months soon passed and Dave Anderson was being throttled by his freshly formed addiction to the robust painkiller, as well as still carrying the weight of a cocaine habit. The first few days of going without either synthetic drug have best been described as ‘the worst flu you could ever experience’. The feelings of hopelessness and depression had been strongly amplified; there was no drive to get out of bed in the mornings, and no money because it had all been spent on drugs. Dave’s personal life had shifted away from his friends and family and had turned its attention to getting the next fix. Sadly, Dave admits, “I was so lost at this point that I completely didn’t care about myself or where I was going.”

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Anderson howls as he celebrates his victory in Trois-Rivieres this summer (Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Fast forward four years to September 2008, and Dave had entirely lost his way. Having unsuccessfully completed a rehab program in Brooklin, Ontario, for 21 days the previous May, his mind finally had the courage to admit that there was a growing issue at hand, but the power of the addiction to the drugs still clouded his judgment.

His new life revolved around drugs, and every minute that went by without drugs was another minute that his body craved it more and more. The daily chemical diet consisted Cocaine, Crack, and OxyContin (he had graduated from Percocet) and the dependence was spinning out of control, until the culmination of years of drug use and avoiding the law finally caught up with him, Dave was arrested for forging a prescription for OxyContin, and spent the next several days sitting in a jail cell.

At this point he knew that he had to make changes. Cold, tired, and sick from the lack of drugs in his system, Dave got on his hands and knees and began to pray for a second chance at life. The dark reality of his choices had finally broken through to him. The death of his older brother, and the deteriorated personal relationships combined with the absence of karting all overwhelmed him, but in that moment, Dave knew that he needed to change, or risk losing his life to the addiction that controlled it.

“…and I will never forget her reply ‘David, in life you can do anything you want, if you are willing to work for it’.”

Dave’s goal was to become clean and get his helmet back on, but the road to sobriety was no short sprint; it would be a long journey of dedication and perseverance before he would be able to return to the racing world. His mindset was moving in the right direction, but beating addiction was a more arduous task than he had anticipated.

“I met my wife in March of 2009. She wasn’t aware of my problem until a month into our relationship. When I told her she wanted to run out the door, and I didn’t blame her.”

He explained that he wanted to change his life – that he wanted to get better.

“I told her I wanted to get back into racing one day, and I will never forget her reply ‘David, in life you can do anything you want, if you are willing to work for it’.”

These words stuck with him, replaying in his sub-conscience to the point where he had found the courage to really make some progress in his battle with addiction. Some months had passed and Dave had given up cocaine. The urge and desire to do drugs often pre-occupied him, but over time, it eventually subsided to being just a whisper in his thoughts.

The problem still existed however. Cocaine was banished but Oxycontin still persisted. On September 20th, 2009 he dropped off his new girlfriend at her new job and began breaking up another pill to start his daily routine, until he looked in the mirror. His eyes, once full of life, were baggy and sunken, his skin exuded an unhealthy pallor, and this naturally large human being stared back at him, gaunt and unwell.

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Back on top of the podium, Anderson celebrates his ECKC victory in Trois-Rivieres with Corey Walsh (l) and Keith Barrick (r) – Photo by: Cody Schindel/CKN)

Before snorting up that one pill he felt a power wash over him. Much like the first night in the jail cell, he felt a strong sense of empowerment come over him, only this time it was accompanied by a particular voice in his head. “I knew it was God, or my brother telling me not to do it. I took that pill, opened my car window and threw it, along with the rest of my pills, out the window.”

Over the next few years Dave slowly started to change his life. Strangers became new friends and old pals retreated into strangers. Religion had become a prominent part of life, but it wasn’t until Canadian karting veteran Sal Ditta invited Dave to the 2013 Canadian Nationals at Goodwood Kartways that Dave knew that he needed to get back behind the wheel in order to complete his self-redemption.

Witnessing the field of over 30 Briggs Senior drivers was just enough for him to finally feel at peace, to feel welcomed again, at the one place that made him feel at home. Standing at the fence, Dave closed his eyes, and quietly prayed for his chance to race again.

“As 2014 draws to a close, I can proudly admit that I haven’t taken a pill since September 20th 2009; I haven’t done any coke since May 2009. Every day to me now is a gift, it’s special, and I thank God daily that the earth is still below my feet. I feel like there’s so much for me to accomplish. I still dream to this day of driving a race car, maybe even doing it for a living, and I know deep down inside God has given me another chance, and I know my brother is cheering me on.

On Saturday September 20th, on the grid before my final race, Dave remembers, “I flipped up my visor, looked into the sky, and asked my brother to guide me to victory. That day, 5 years ago, I realized that my life needed to change. I realized that was the race that I really needed to win, and my life today couldn’t be any better.“

Without a doubt, Dave’s spirit and dedication, his pure resolve, and steely determination to stare down an addiction that was crippling his life proves that he has indeed won – and he has become the champion that he has always longed to be.

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