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|SproutPoint Consulting, Sector Purple Racing|
Favorite TV show:
|“Go Like Hell”|
|I would like to race one of the yellow factory Corvettes at LeMans.|
Whether on the racetrack or as a former ski jumper, Dan Williams finds a way to soar.
Spend a few minutes with him at the track and you realize he doesn’t do anything half-heartedly.
Whether it’s poring through data between test sessions or peppering fellow racers with setup questions, Williams is constantly on a quest for self-improvement. It might explain why in just his second year of racing, he won the 2014 Eastern States Championships in the 944 Spec and went on to finish seventh at the Mazda Race of NASA Champions last year.
It’s remarkable considering Williams had never raced a car until age 43. Kids who haven’t celebrated their 10th birthday had more track experience than Williams, but what he lacked in seat time he made up for in competitive spirit.
Williams was once on the U.S. Ski Team, making the World Championships twice in ski jumping and narrowly missing a spot on the Olympic team. Flying down a mountainside and jumping 375 feet in the air makes ripping around a track in a car seem pretty tame by comparison.
“I don’t consider myself a thrill-seeker,” said Williams, 47, who lives in Scottsbluff, Neb. “What I like about these activities is not the adrenaline rush or the thrill, but it’s the intensity or focus that you have to draw out of yourself to handle the situation.”
Williams said he got into racing by happenstance while struggling with a bout of inflammatory arthritis. He couldn’t do his usual activities of biking, golfing or running, so a friend suggested they compete in an endurance race where the racers dress up in costumes and drive colorful cars.
Watching some YouTube videos of those races, Williams said the friends realized the teams were racing and not just out there for fun. “Everybody else on the team bailed out, but I thought, ‘That looks like fun,’” he said.
To get ready for the race, Williams signed up for a NASA HPDE event running a 1986 Toyota MR2. “And there began the addiction,” Williams said with a laugh.
He quickly immersed himself in the sport reading nearly every book available about racing and hired Justin Piscitell of DAMG Racing as a driving coach.
Piscitell said one of Williams’ greatest strengths is the pursuit of proper execution, a likely a holdover from his days of pursuing a spot on the U.S. Olympic Ski Team.
“There are plenty of people that have been racing many more years than he has and haven’t gotten half as far,” Piscitell said. “He just has this great ability to be super focused and his will and determination help him excel.”
After Williams earned his racing license in 2012, the following year he was all in, campaigning a 944 Spec in the Rocky Mountain Region. He could be found at the track most weekends with his daughters Emily, 13, Anneka, 11, and Abby, 8, sometimes serving on the pit crew. Williams found success quickly and credits studying data and video, something his coach Piscitell had stressed.
“You need to have a goal every single time you go out on the track,” Williams said. “If you don’t have data, what’s your next goal going to be?”
Competing in his first Eastern States Championships at Road Atlanta, Williams was in the second qualifying race and spun out in a corner and couldn’t finish because of a damaged tire. That put him at the back of the pack for the final race, which Williams says in retrospect, was the best thing to happen.
“At that time I didn’t have anywhere near the experience to push hard at the front and push hard when racing with expectations,” he said, preferring to be the hunter instead of the hunted on the track.
Williams put on a masterful performance by winning the Eastern States Championships, and earned a spot in the Mazda Race of NASA Champions at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Going into the race at age 47, Williams didn’t have expectations of earning a seat in a pro ride. Plus his job day job as an anesthesiologist — his wife, Wendy, is also in anesthesiology — paid the racing bills.
“I’m not young enough to think I’m going to make a pro career out of this, but I still have enough youth and vanity in me to think it would be cool,” he said.
Having started racing two years earlier, Williams turned a lot of heads at the Mazda Race of NASA Champions by placing seventh.
This season Williams is racing a Spec Miata and 944 Porsche and focusing on national races within NASA. He’ll be on track competing against friend Dr. Jason Walsh, who is a general surgeon, and races a Spec Miata and 944 Porsche. Both work together in the same hospital and will talk racing, even during an operation.
“Dan has got great eye-hand coordination,” Walsh said. “Over the years of ski jumping, he understands probably better than most people how important the little things are. If you’re trying to find somebody with more focus … you’re probably not going to find any people who are more capable than he is.
“I drove for a decade before Dan started driving. He went from being a second slower than I was when we started, and now he’s probably a second to 2.5 seconds faster than me.”
While racing is physically demanding on Williams, the right combination of diet and medication has kept the inflammatory arthritis under control. The fun and camaraderie he’s having with NASA is like the days on the slopes.
“I don’t know if it’s because I feel so lucky I get to do something that I’m wholeheartedly passionate about again at this age, or if I actually like auto racing better than skiing,” Williams said. “Within the last year, I think auto racing has surpassed skiing in terms of enjoyment that I get out of it. I feel like I’m getting to have my 20s twice.”