Ballin on a Budget: A Danny George Tale
Danny George: thieving con-man or PR genius? Maybe somewhere in between but I’m leaning toward PR genius. His Formula D program is almost entirely fan-funded. In fact, he’s so reliant on his fans that he probably wouldn’t have been able to compete this season without them. His detractors see a big house and fancy truck and trailer and cry foul. They ask, how can a guy begging for money afford that kind of stuff? And when he announced plans to run at Pike’s Peak next summer, he really started taking some heat. If he can barely do Formula D, how can he possibly run at Pike’s? Well, here’s the exposé you’ve been waiting for. Have a look at exactly what Danny George is doing.
Danny came onto the national radar in 2010 when he got his FD license at ProAm Nationals at Irwindale. Even back then he was using the phrase “Who’s Danny George?” Everyone running in Pro-Am knows it takes a ton of money to run in the big leagues, but most have no idea how to get any. Running a Formula D team is basically like running an advertising company. The team owner sells ad space on the car, and the size of the audience depends on the popularity of the car and driver. Ad space is more valuable on a car that spends more time on track (keeps winning battles) or attracts more fans in the paddock. A few rookies will be able to pull in enough sponsors to fund their programs, but Danny decided on a different approach.
Danny didn’t have any delusions about being a top driver his first year out and knew the big money sponsors probably wouldn’t be interested in his program. In 2012 his parents put $32k into the program, so Danny thought of the fan-funding idea to both ease the pressure on his parents as well as make himself more accessible to his fans.
Let’s back up a bit and lay some foundation. You may have seen the Crab Broker stickers on Danny’s car and wondered what exactly that is. It’s a company run by Danny and his parents and two employees, and they arrange crab boats to bring their haul to different processing plants. From there the crabs are FedExed to customers all over the world.
Maybe the crabs at your local market or restaurant go through the Crab Broker. They are the US’s largest buyer of Alaskan king crab. Even though it sounds pretty cool, this job only nets Danny about $3000 per month. It takes about $800 a month to take care of his various bills and his son Jack’s swimming lessons, museum visits, and other activities. Danny wants Jack to grow up having a good childhood, so that takes priority over most other things.
Danny brings in some side money by modifying people’s Miata knuckles for more angle. He’s been working on a design for drop knuckles for better bump steer handling so expect to see those soon. This stuff is being moved under the Wreckhouse brand name. Have no fear, none of the fan funds go to knuckle development. That’s all paid for with profits from knuckle sales. On a good month he can offset all the money he spends on raising Jack.
Danny lives in a pretty ballin’ house. Granite everywhere, big living room, guest rooms, stainless appliances, wood floors, the whole nine yards. You think Danny should be living in a one bedroom apartment if he’s so broke? Here’s how the numbers break down: First of all, this house is in northwest Las Vegas, at the edge of the wild desert and it cost $320k. If a house like this was in my neighborhood, 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco, it would probably cost closer to 2.5 million. The mortgage is $1400 per month, which he splits 50/50 with his girl. Add taxes and insurance and it comes to about $1000 per month out of Danny’s pocket.
Here’s where it makes more sense: Danny scored a house with a garage meant for a class-A motorhome. Those are the bus-sized ones. The garage is tall enough for a lift and long enough for all the tools and storage space he needs for working on his cars. In an industrial complex, a space this size with an attached office and bathroom might cost $1000 per month on its own, plus extra power, water, and phone/internet bills each month. When you consider that he’s not paying anything extra for this space since it’s part of his house, Danny ends up looking like a budgeting genius.
Danny’s truck is pretty cool. It’s a 2008 Chevy Duramax turbo diesel dually in nice condition. He bought it with 40k miles for $35k with zero down and is paying $570 a month with another $130 per month for insurance.
Let’s keep in mind that this truck needs to drive a bare minimum of 11,000 towing miles to do one Formula D season, most likely without any time for service other than oil changes, so it needs to be very reliable. Add in all the errands a team needs to do before and during event, plus back and forth to the hotel each day, and a few trips from Las Vegas to Willow Springs and back for off-season testing, and the mileage requirements get closer to 20,000 a year. It’s definitely smarter to spend a little bit more up front on newer truck than risk the expense of dealing with a broken truck on the road. Being a professional means having top-notch skills, but it also means having reliable equipment. Skills mean nothing if you can’t even make it to the events.
$3000 from the Crab Broker, minus $800 for bills and Jack, minus, $1000 for the house mortgage and taxes and insurance, minus $700 for the truck payment and insurance leaves $500 per month available to put into the drifting program if no emergencies pop up. That’s with nothing going into savings either. Any knuckle profits are a nice bonus on top of that. He brought in $16,000 the first week of selling shirt/sticker/face-on-the-car packages, and that number crept up to $23,000 by Round 4. Of course that’s not all profit. After the cost of producing the merchandise, shipping, fees, and getting the car wrapped, Danny estimates that he’s made about $10,000 that can go toward travel, hotels, food, and those kinds of operating expenses. Oh and those all-important tires. There’s no way he would be driving this season without his fans’ support.
Depending on which package his fans buy, they can get their picture on the Miata in two sizes. It’s actually pretty fun to inspect the car and see all the funny pictures. The digital camo livery was made with the pictures in mind, and features rectangles that are the same size as the picture spots for sale so Danny can slap on new pictures with ease. In case you’re wondering, DDS Performance is a Vegas-based shop run by Danny’s crew chief Kyle LeBlanc.
Kyle brings a ton of technical knowledge to the table. He built, wired, and tuned everything on the car Danny couldn’t do himself. He also makes sure things go smoothly at the track. He works for free, just like the rest of the crew. They do it for the love of the sport.
The majority of the faces are on the sides of the car. Danny is saving the hood for a big sponsor if one decides to sign on.
Mr. George still helps out with the team. He helps get everyone hyped, schmoozes possible sponsors, and still gets dirty with everyone else when it’s needed.
The trailer is about as basic as they come; It has no amenities at all. Danny’s parents bought him this basic 28′ Interstate enclosed trailer (used) for $6500 to help him get started in Formula D. Sure an open trailer would have been cheaper, but not secure at all. They could have even gotten him a cheaper, more used enclosed trailer, but it’s worth having a sturdy one in good condition so it won’t fall apart or lose wheels on the freeway. After they brought it back to Vegas, they installed a Husky tool box and homemade tire racks. Now Danny has the reliability to be able to make it to each round and keep all his other stuff safe whenever he stops at the store or leaves the rig at the track overnight.
Instead of special ordering orange tables, Danny got some regular tables and painted them with spray paint. The tools belong to Kyle, and he understands the value of good quality stuff too. You only have to buy good tools once. This DeWalt cordless drill driver is $120, while the equivalent tool from Ryobi is $70, but the team might go through five of the Ryobis before the DeWalt gives up. The DeWalt comes with a spare battery too.
Like any well-prepared team, Danny likes to have spare parts. What good is driving all the way across the country, spending all that money on gas, food, and hotel rooms, not to mention the entry fee of $750, to not even be able to compete because of broken parts? What’s even better is that a lot of his spares are borrowed from friends, so he doesn’t have to buy them unless he actually needs them. Unfortunately during practice in New Jersey, his intake manifold broke and he didn’t have a spare. Luckily he was able to use someone else’s spare, but this incident goes to show that you can never be too ready.
Danny and his crew got the LS1 back together with plenty of time to spare, then he went out and qualified 16th on his first run.
Ryan Kado zeroed out on his first run but came back with the highest score of the day, landing him in 17th. That meant he’d be Danny’s opponent in the Top 32. Danny maintained angle and was still able to pull a gap on Kado, and when they switched he stuck to the 350Z like glue, earning his first career win.
Danny’s dedication is starting to pay off. He’s more popular than ever, and the crowd went wild as Jarod DeAnda got to introduce him in the Top 16 for the very first time.
Hankook supplied him with an umbrella but didn’t have any umbrella girls available. They were busy hanging out with Grunewald, Forsberg, McQuarrie, and Aasbø. But that’s what Dan Brocketts are for. Hang on, Brockett’s not even the one holding the umbrella. Danny is such a gentleman.
In the Top 16, Danny faced off against #1 qualifier Justin Pawlak, but his winning streak was over. This was JTP’s first Top 16 win this season and he went on to finish second, so I guess Danny couldn’t be too mad.
Danny’s Pike’s Peak plan isn’t a sign that his fans are giving him too much. As of right now he has no money to do it, at all. He’s planning on early pre-sales of his packages for next year and is even willing to take on debt to make it happen, and he wouldn’t do that if he wasn’t sure he could pull it off. If his fans want to see him on the mountain, then by God they’ll see him on the mountain.
That being said, Formula D Round 5 is coming up fast and Danny’s going to be there with his fancy truck and little orange car trying to win more battles. More importantly, his fans will be there, as they always are. They’ll be cheering him on with their orange vuvuzelas and cowbells, wearing their orange “We are Danny George” shirts. Do you think they’re getting their money’s worth out of the program? If his fans didn’t want to support him, they wouldn’t. If his products weren’t in demand or if they were too expensive, they wouldn’t sell. If his fans thought they were being ripped off, they’d stop buying into the program. So I ask again, do you think they’re getting their money’s worth? I sure do.
Photos by Bohan & Ayala
instagram: @andrew_bohan, @joe_ayala, @lifeblasters
Additional photos provided by Jon Maudlin,
Travis Arket, Ken Stouffer, and Danny George