Danny Way's rough road to rallycross
Skateboarder Danny Way helped get friends such as Ken Block and Bucky Lasek hooked on racing cars more than a decade ago, so when Way decided to trade MegaRamp competition for rallycross, he figured having some pals in high places couldn't hurt.
"I've been dabbling in all kinds of racing for a few years now, and once I decided to make rally a priority, I kind of thought I'd be able to make a few calls to some friends and work some of those relationships," Way said, just before his first rallycross race earlier this month. "It hasn't turned out to be so easy."
His first call was to Block, who co-founded DC Shoes with Way's brother Damon and released Danny's first signature skate shoe with the company 20 years ago. Block has gone on to become one of the most prolific rally drivers on the planet, thanks in no small part to his popular Gymkhana video series, a partnership with Ford and a top-selling video game, not to mention trophies in virtually every rally-related competition.
"[Block] was like, 'Sorry, I can't help you out.' And that was a bit of a wake-up call, after everything we've been through together over the years," Way said.
Lasek, Dave Mirra and Travis Pastrana -- other X Games stars who have made rallycross a priority -- all told Way essentially the same thing: He's going to have to take his lumps.
"I've come to appreciate that, because for me challenge always creates more drive, more hunger," Way said. "The more I get roughed-up along the path, the harder it's going to be for everyone else when I get there."
In rallycross, that just might be a winning attitude. There's no secret to success that doesn't include a lot of hard work -- and a lot of failure and smashed-up cars -- along the road.
"I think Danny saw guys like Bucky Lasek and Dave Mirra racing in GRC and even having some moderate success over the last few years and wanted a piece of that, but the fact is you have to have some serious seat time behind the wheel and some real driving experience to compete at the top level now," Block said. "Otherwise it'd be like me saying, 'Oh, I've skateboarded some, so I'm just going to jump on the MegaRamp at X Games and see how it works out.'"
Although Way is best known for a skateboarding career that dates back to the 1980s with the H-Street team, bringing Skateboard Big Air competition to the X Games and collecting a stack of gold medals and world records, racing has always been an ambition of his."For me challenge always creates more drive, more hunger. The more I get roughed up along the path, the harder it's going to be for everyone else when I get there."Danny WayPro Skateboarder, Race car driver
He had supercross racing dreams when he was younger, and balanced time on his bike and his board for several years before skateboarding became his passion. For the past few years he's been racing off-road trucks and any cars he can, trying to get more of that seat time everyone keeps telling him he needs.
"My goal is really clear: I want to be racing pro rally supercars with Travis Pastrana, Ken Block, Dave Mirra, Bucky Lasek, and the rest of the guys," Way said. "But the financial barriers are huge. It's expensive, like all car racing is, and there's only so much sponsorship money that goes around, so I'm doing everything I can to make myself an asset to a team."
To get there, Way has been logging hours at rally driving schools over the past three years. Earlier this month he entered his first rallycross race, driving a Suzuki Swift in the first round of the British Swift Sport Rallycross Championship at Lydden Hill in Canterbury, England.
"I'm checking boxes, basically," he said. "I have a to-do list for myself of things recommended to me by my new coach and the Pro Drive team I'd like to be working with, just trying to get as much experience as I can so I don't have a learning curve on the main stage and on someone else's dime."
The Pro Drive team he aspires to is the same one that put Liam Doran into the MINI with which he won X Games Munich 2013. And the coach is Peter Gwynne, one of the biggest names in the biz. Way is taking it one race at a time, but the Swift series is part of a very clear plan he and his coach have outlined for how to move on to bigger goals quickly.
"I think the Swift series is a great place to start," Block said, considering Way's plan of attack before his curiosity about his old friend and potential new competitor kicks in: "How'd he do?"
Way finished seventh out of 11 drivers in the Swift Sport class at Lydden Hill. Not great, not bad, and probably a surprise to the four more experienced drivers he beat, but middle-of-the-pack isn't exactly Way's style.
"I'd keep that result in mind for the day, maybe a few years down the line, when you're writing about him getting on some podiums, because it's important to remember, especially in this sport, that everybody has to start somewhere," Block said.
"The biggest difference between motorsports and board sports that I imagine Danny is learning pretty quick is the need for money, and lots of it," Block said. "I sometimes wish I was a skateboarder, where all I needed was a skateboard and some sneakers and a bag to carry them in.""You have to have some ... real driving experience to compete at the top level now. Otherwise it'd be like me saying, 'Oh, I've skateboarded some, so I'm just going to jump on the MegaRamp at X Games and see how it works out."Ken BlockRally car driver
Block took a team of 10 to X Games Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, last year, plus his car and spare parts. In the first turn of the final RallyCross race, Block and several other cars got taken out, and all that money Block and his team spent went away in an instant.
"It can be quite frustrating, and the expense makes it a very hard sport to break into," Block said.
As a co-founder of DC Shoes, Block invested his own money -- more of it than he cares to disclose -- prior to his first rally race in 2004 and personally bankrolled his first few years of rally racing before attracting any major sponsors.
"When Travis Pastrana and I started this adventure, I was a nobody," Block said. "We were driving in the same cars, and the same team that ran his car ran mine, but he was a sponsored driver and I was the opposite. I was spending my own money to race every race."
The strategy paid off for Block, especially after he and Pastrana helped bring rallycross to X Games in 2006, but it's a gamble Way said he can't afford to make after his recent divorce and because of the costs of maintaining his MegaRamp compound in Hawaii.
"I would like to just make it clear: I've done well with my skateboarding career, but this isn't a story about some rich guy buying his way into rallycross," Way said. "Not everybody gets a break. People don't want to just give away money."
Way's friend Mirra experienced that reality firsthand, and Way is trying to learn from his example.
Mirra earned 23 X Games medals -- 14 of them gold -- as a BMX rider but has made the podium just once behind the wheel of a rally car, winning bronze in 2008. Last season, Mirra parted ways with Subaru, his longtime factory sponsor, when he had an opportunity to pilot Doran's Pro Drive MINI in a GRC event. He had some of the best qualifying times of his career in that car but ultimately crashed out in the main event after tangling with another driver.
"I put some of my own money in, in the beginning, but I always told myself I didn't want to be reaching into my piggy bank to bankroll a second career," Mirra said. "I just wouldn't be able to do that, and that's the crossroads Danny is at now, too. I've tried to give him some advice, but the truth is I'm having a tough time figuring out what's going on this year myself."
Despite receiving an X Games Austin 2014 invite, Mirra has yet to confirm a car sponsor and is not slated to compete in other GRC events this year. Lately, he's been more focused on triathlon racing, his newest and decidedly less expensive passion.
"My advice to anyone who wants to get into rallycross? Go to church on Sundays and pray for some funding," Mirra said. "It's an expensive sport no matter what."
On his skateboard, Way won every Big Air event he ever entered, with the exception of a silver medal in 2008, but has been missing in action at X Games for the past few years. While he hasn't ruled out a return to the Big Air competition, he's now more focused on getting to X Games in a rally car. He's not on the Rallycross invite list this year, but says he aims to prove his worth sooner than later. He now has his sights set on X Games Austin 2015.
"I'm hungry to get to the starting line," he said. "When I get there, I'll be ready and people will know."