Half Run, Full Heart
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb 2015, Danny George Racing
Sometimes things don’t work out. It’s a fact of racing, and a fact of life. No matter how much you plan ahead of time, any number of factors can throw a wrench in your plans. What defines someone is how they handle the hurdles that are thrown their way. And a race like Pikes Peak is bound to throw quite a few obstacles in your path. After following around Danny George and his team for a week, I can tell you first hand what a dedicated team looks like.
I contacted Danny George a few months back, asking if I could do a feature on his race efforts at Pikes Peak. I’ve been a fan of his since his days back in Formula Drift. He was the only driver left campaigning a Miata at the time, and immediately became one of my favorite drivers because of that. Last season he debuted this LS3 swapped Mazda Miata. Unfortunately it seemed like nothing went his way, and he lost his Pro license at the end of the 2014 season. For some this might have been the end of their racing career, but Danny spun this into something positive. He took the car he campaigned in FD and converted it to a monster of a grip car so he could run Global Time Attack.
This is actually the second time the team has been to Pikes Peak. Last year they brought the same car to Colorado, and ran it up the mountain. Unfortunately they ran into some cooling issues that time, and they didn’t make it to the peak. But that was with a car that was in the middle of a Formula Drift season. Since then the car has undergone some changes. The conversion was pretty straight forward. The steering angle mods were removed, bringing it back to a more stock setup, and the radiator was moved back to the front of the car. It retains it’s monster of a LS3, and gained some seriously aggressive aero. I heard someone joking that it’s not much of a Miata anymore, but I’d argue that it’s the ultimate Miata. If the Miata is uncompromising in its pursuit of fun, this specific NB is uncompromising in the pursuit of speed. If nothing else it’s possibly one of the meanest track ready Miatas in the world.
However the most important detail of the car isn’t how much power it puts down, or how big the aero is. It’s the livery. The black and orange digi-camo is made up of a bunch of different photos. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Danny’s program, these are the people who made his Formula Drift seasons possible. He crowd funded two seasons in a row, where fans bought supporter packages and got their pictures on the car. Danny could have stripped the car and went with a new theme entirely, but instead he still brings his fans with him, whereever he races.
If there’s any doubt that Danny and his team are anything but the genuine article of Grass Roots racers, their trailer can stand as proof. While many teams showed up in large enclosed trailers, big rig tow trucks and a full team of mechanics, this team showed up with a borrowed truck and trailer and a total of four people. This isn’t a multimillion-dollar team flexing it’s way to the fastest time. It’s a group of friends, passionate about racing, who have been able to get fans excited about their racing efforts.
I caught up with the team on their second day of practice. Pikes Peak has three days of qualifying, running different groups up different portions of the mountain. This was the middle section, a snaking path of tarmac that takes drivers above the tree line and into Devil’s Playground. I found the team preparing the car for the day, making sure everything was in order for some solid practice.
I watched as the team got everything in order. The ear splitting V8 warmed up while Danny and Kyle (the team’s crew chief) were double checking everything. Eric, who was doing media for the team, was setting up their GoPros while Bill Baldwin (of Formula Drift Long Beach fame) gave some words of encouragement to Danny before he hopped in the drivers seat.
The anticipation while waiting is something indescribable. Just as a fly on the wall, my heart was pumping the closer he got to the front of the line. I can only imagine what it’s like to be sitting behind the wheel. After some time it was Danny’s turn. The green flag was handed to Bill, and he sent Danny on his way to Devil’s Playground. The V8 screamed into the forest, and then after a while there was nothing. I asked Kyle what happened next, and he shrugged and said that they wait. There was no cell service or radio to contact Danny up the mountain, and he wouldn’t be returning for a while.
When he did finally return, he was obviously unhappy with the run. After checking the footage, there were obviously some serious issues. The car had started leaking oil midway through his run, and was bellowing smoke out the back. But it wasn’t anything the team couldn’t fix quickly. I watched as they got the car up in the air and replaced the oil filter, which was the culprit of the smoke screen, and got back on the line.
Without missing a beat, he was off again. The car sounded healthier, and ran much smoother up the mountain on that pass. I think that after a few years of working under pressure in Formula Drift, this was no big deal for the team. They had plenty of time to identify and fix the problem, and get the car back to 100% before getting on the line again.
Unfortunately I wouldn’t see the team again until Race Day. I found them in the pits, squeezed between two massive trailers, doing a quick alignment. Media popped in and out taking shots of the car, other teams scrambled around them getting their own cars ready, as fans wandered by. But for Danny and his team it was a matter of playing the waiting game. They had hours until they had to be on the line.
As the time to set off drew closer, things started to look bleak. After having perfect weather all day long, a storm crested the mountain and made its way to the starting line. The team decided to get the car out of the dirt pits and get onto the starting grid, to avoid driving through the mud if it rained. It was starting to look like a competitive time was out of reach.
As Danny sat on the line, the storm hit. It dumped rain, and lightning surrounded the entire starting grid. They suspended the race, while everyone took cover. Danny didn’t leave the car though, if the lightning subsided then they would send him up the mountain. Because the Miata lacks a roof, Bill held an umbrella over Danny and his seat, protecting them from the elements. But even with a competitive time looking unlikely, the team was still determined to get to the summit. Bill told me, “I don’t care if it takes him 20 minutes, as long as he makes it to the top”.
After waiting out the storm, it seemed like it was finally time to tackle Pikes Peak. The ground was rapidly drying up, and conditions seemed to be ideal once again. However everyone continue to sit in line, they still weren’t sending any cars up the mountain. Word started traveling that the summit was snowed in, and cars wouldn’t be able to make it up past Glen Cove, roughly half way through the race course. Making it to the top was no longer an option. The remainder of the field would be allowed to make a run to Glen Cove, and their time would have an asterisk indicating they did not reach the top of Pikes Peak. After a weeks worth of work, Danny and his team would not reach the summit.
Despite this setback the team still prepared for their run. Summit or not, they were still pushing forward. They continued to creep up the line, as they sent car after car. The car warmed up, preparing for its final attack up the mountain. Danny finally reached the front of the line, brought the revs up, dumped the clutch and warmed up the tires. All seemed well, until the car stalled out on the line. Worse yet it wouldn’t start back up.
After facing so many setbacks in such a short period of time, it didn’t seem to phase the team. They pulled the car back, and push started the car back to life. Nothing was going to stop them from making the race at this point. The car sprung back to life, and was finally on the start line.
For the last time that week, the bright orange Miata, with the massive rear wing, crazy aero and beastly V8, screamed up the mountain, piloted by a man driven by his passion for racing. Even when faced with setbacks out of his control, he still pushes forward, for his team and for his fans. It rounded the corner, and disappeared into the forest.
It’s not hard to see why Danny has built such a loyal following. He is as genuine a person as I’ve met in the race community, and as dedicated to his fans as a racer could be. While it’s a shame to see that he didn’t make the summit of Pikes Peak, I have total confidence that Danny will continue to return to the mountain, and continue to race his badass Miatas.
I’d like to thank Danny, Kyle, Eric and Bill for letting me get a closer look at what goes into a week at Pikes Peak. I saw first hand what it takes to be a serious contender in one of the oldest races in existence. Even if you don’t make it to the summit, with a team like this, you still come out on top.
For more information on Danny George Racing, visit his website here. For more information on PPIHC, visit their website here. Special thanks to Jeffrey Mohr for capturing video after the start line, and for lending me his car while I was in Colorado for the week.
Please contact me if you would like to use any of these photos on your own website or social media. You can reach me by email on my contact form, or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (@speedlimitless). At the very least tag me, please?