Occupation: Racing Driver
Consider the life of a full-time racing driver. There aren't many. Get past Formula One or NASCAR and the ranks thin out considerably. It's the sponsorship that a driver brings that provides the juice. David Donohue is one of the rare ones. Driving is his job, period. Here, he offers a look at how he got there and hopes to remain.
European Car: What was your major in school and when did you make decide to turn pro?
David Donohue: I got my BS in Finance at the beginning of a recession-the last big one, that is. Getting a real job proved more difficult and far less fun than going racing. I had been doing some club driving and making friends with people who could help me. I never thought of it that seriously until my father was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Novi, Michigan. While attending that event, people like Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford would come up and talk to my brother and I, and talk to us in a comforting and accepting way. Then Al Unser, Jr. presented us with the award.That was my first real exposure to my father's world. I was blown away by how these motorsport legends talked to us. At this time I hadn't started to race yet, I couldn't afford to. But after my wife saw what was happening at this induction and how I reacted, she said the immortal words that truly got me started: "Well, if you want to try racing, you might as well start now or else you'll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life, not knowing what might have been. But you only get five years. After that, if you're not making it work, you'll have to quit and get a real job."
EC: How did you go about securing that all-important first paying drive? What was the venue?
DD: I had some help getting started in some showroom-stock races, but the pressure was mounting as I began to realize how difficult it was financially. I was keeping in contact with all my Porsche Club friends and then I heard one of them was having two BMW M5 Bridgestone Supercars built. I called him and he gave me a shot by letting me do a test day and the first three races. I had to prove my mettle against my teammate, the guy who put the team together, Chris Hodgetts.That first test [at Moroso] got me 'in' with the team. Unfortunately, the first race didn't go well. I T-boned another car in practice at the Miami Grand Prix street race. The car in front tagged the tire wall and blocked the track. I had nowhere to go. The damage was so bad I couldn't race. Not a great start.Since I was local to the shop, I ended up working there for pennies and getting paid pennies for driving. I wasn't making enough to live on, but my wife made enough to cover the bills. I made more the second year on my way to the Championship title. The whole thing wasn't too glamorous, but we made a lot happen with little resources.
Ec: Regardless of your father's reputation, you've been successful in your own right. But what would it have been like to fail? With your last name, you put a lot on the line.
DD: I never felt I was in his shadow. Rather, being his son gave me the advantage of name recognition. That counts for a ton. That first drive in the M5 Supercar started my career. Everything I've done since can be traced back to those two years-'93 and '94. That's when I met Hurley and Bob Snodgrass of Brumos, by the way.Only after some time passed did I realize I missed achieving what my father achieved. For me, the biggest challenge has always been staying employed. I rarely got to choose where I was going to race. I took every opportunity that came my way. Teams and programs come and go in racing, and your ability to perform often has little impact on the decisions about the program continuing. The result is that drivers have little job security, regardless of their abilities.