They say necessity is the best teacher. Dan Ferguson is finding that out the hard way. As a 26 year old college student, he has all of the financial woes that normally accompany college students. Unlike most college students, however, Dan isn’t satisfied playing backyard games and beach volleyball on the weekends. Dan has his sights set on the PDRA Top Sportsman World Championship.
With necessity as his guide and hard work and determination as close companions, Ferguson has not only solely funded his racing for the year, he’s successfully led Top Sportsman (TS) points since race two of the PDRA’s inaugural tour.
“Well, at the beginning of the season my intention was to only run two of the races on the PDRA tour,” Ferguson explained. “I was going to run the spring Rockingham race and then the second PDRA one there in the fall. This season, I was starting out with a different motor, a new combination that I hadn’t ever run before. I was just going to call it a building year and have fun, no pressure.”
A good run at Rockingham was all it took to change Ferguson’s mind. “I ended up going to the semi finals at Rockingham. After we won first round, I said to my buddies, if I come out of here top five in points I’m going to try to go to the next race. I came out like fourth in points, so I went to Georgia. Down in Georgia I went to the finals. Dylan Stott beat me, but I was able to take over the points lead. I’ve held onto it ever since. I beat Dylan at Rockingham in second round, and he beat me at Georgia in the final, and he and I have kind of had a points battle going on most of the season. Dylan is a very good racer. He has been second and third in points since Georgia. I haven’t won a race yet, but I’ve been consistently going rounds and been hanging on just enough to keep the points lead. I’ve been trying to win one; it just doesn’t come easy when you’re racing against these guys. The competition is tough.”
For Ferguson, nothing has been handed to him, and he doesn’t expect this Championship to, either.
“I’m trying to get my car running a little better, more consistent mainly. It’s a 15 year old car, built by a friend of mine, Jeff Solyan. He’d never built a car before and he did a really good job, but it was just never made to go this fast. It was built to run like mid-7s in the quarter-mile, which was highly competitive in IHRA Top Sportsman at the time. When I bought it I put double frame rails in it, and added bars to it in other places also. It’s hard to compete against the guys I race with sometimes. I paid $21,000 for my car and that was a fair deal for it. Most of the cars I race against are $100,000 or $130,000 cars. Even though I added some bars, it’s still older technology. It’s just not easy. It’s temperamental. Everything’s got to be right for it to make a smooth run. It’s not very forgiving to track condition changes. Makes it hard to run your dial in.”
Still, the Pennsylvania native turned southerner has found success with his machine. “I’ve mostly done good when I needed to, and had a lucky round here and there” he continued. “Earlier in the year my car was pretty deadly, but lately I’ve been struggling with it a little more. It’s hard to get it hooked up. I’ve been working on it, though, and it’s been coming around. I lost first round down in Tulsa because it spun a little off the starting line and killed my 60′. I had a good light, so it was a bummer. But, I know why it spun, and I think I know what to change in Rockingham to prevent that.”
Besides being a low-budgeted points leader, Ferguson is unlike many of his racing peers in another way: “I pretty much got into drag racing on my own. My parents were never really into cars. I got into riding dirt bikes when I was a kid. I grew up racing Motocross. My parents were really into that. We did that from the time I was 12 or 13 until I was 19. We hit it pretty hard during that time and raced most every weekend from March-November yearly. A lot of my friends I raced with were quitting, and my family moved to North Carolina. That was pretty much the end of my Motocross. There just wasn’t as much of it going on there. I’ve been a racer since I was a kid. I don’t have a clue what else I’d be interested in if I wasn’t racing right now. But after a period of transition, cars just ended up being the next chapter.
“I never made a run in a race car until July 2011. I used to have a street car that I would take to the dragstrip, a ‘97 Trans Am WS6. I bought it Valentine’s Day of 2005 and sold it in March of 2011. It was bone stock when I bought it, and during the time I had it, I took it from running 13.90s to 10.80s. When I sold it, I parted out all the performance parts, and sold the rolling chassis in stock form separately to get the most money out of it. I used that money to start flipping cars pretty heavy, and also rebuilding and reselling motors. I hustled a lot and was able to buy my race car. This is my first year I’ve run a full season. In 2012 I raced March through July. Then I parked my car so I could sell my 565 and save up to buy a bigger motor. I sold my motor and I was flipping cars and trucks again to make money. I got another motor, but it took until August of 2013 to get back out on the track.
“I started out with that little 565 engine. It was sweet. It took my through the beginnings of my learning curve, going from low 5s in the eight mile to 4.40s. The second motor I had was a 706. I only ran it from August 2013 through the end of the season. Then I had a chance to get the motor I have now, a 765, from a good friend of mine, Dale Pittman. He gave me time to sell the 706, so I sold the 706 and got his 765; it’s been a great motor.
“My parents are very supportive of my drag racing, but as far as all the financial responsibility – that falls on me,” Ferguson stressed. “I go to community college, so I go to school really cheap. I buy and sell late model Trans Ams and Camaros and Duramax trucks and LT1 and LS1 motors. That’s how I support my racing. I was doing good until I decided to try to tour on a national series. Now I’m always broke,” Ferguson laughed. “I want to win this championship really bad. I hope I can make it happen. That would be a dream come true.”
Ferguson is double majoring in Business Administration and Motorsports Marketing at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with plans to be self employed upon graduation, possibly expanding his current buy and sell business.
“It’s very tough to balance work, racing and school. The last couple of semesters with the racing, especially this spring semester- trying to come up with the money to go to Valdosta and Memphis- were very tough.”
The driven college student also hopes future plans one day include a shot at driving a Pro Mod. “I’d love to drive a car in PDRA Pro Nitrous one day, or Pro Modified or Pro Extreme, or Pro Stock. I don’t care; they’re all awesome. As far as being on my own, I imagine Top Sportsman will probably be it for me. Teaming up with somebody down the road would be cool. For a youngster I know quite a bit about working on the car. I did all my welding, putting the bars in my car myself. I do my own motors, my own rebuilds. I had a mishap earlier in the summer. I burned up my motor really bad when one of the timing retards didn’t activate. It junked all the pistons, got molten aluminum on some of the rods, junked three of the sleeves. My good friends Ed Steffey and Ted Miller at Transfer Performance Machine did some work, but for the most part I did all the work myself. I have to. That’s the only way I’m able to race. If I don’t know how to do something, I pretty much have to learn, but I like it. That makes it so gratifying when you have a good race. I’m a hard worker. If I ever teamed up with somebody I’d be a lot more than just a shoe. I really believe I have the potential to be a good driver at a higher level one day. It would be cool if that happened sometime down the road, but I’m also happy where I’m at. Heck, I would bracket race a moped and still have fun.”
Although Ferguson has had to handle much of what it takes to be a successful racer on his own, he says there have been many who have helped him along the way.
“There’s a lot of people that have given me a lot of help. Whether it’s teaching me things about the car or racing, helping me work on the car, or coming to be my crew at the track, I’ve had a lot of help. Help is an absolute necessity in this sport. You cannot do it on your own. A couple of key people have been my grandparents and parents. They have been supportive and encourage me when I am stressed out or down. Ron and Jeff Solyan for selling me this car and teaching me how to run it and race in my early days. Marty Noir has been a big help and a great friend to me from day one. He has always been there to help, and did most of the sheet metal work on my car when I added all the bars in the chassis. John Podleyon is another great friend who has always helped me. He taught me a lot about working on cars back in my Trans Am days and is a key in how I got where I am today.
“Ed Steffey and Ted Miller from Transfer Performance Machine have taught me a lot about motors, and are a big part of the reason I can work on my own and do nearly any work necessary to it on my own. Bob and Darrell Dean- they’ve been a big help to me too in this journey. Before I did any work to my chassis, I took the car down to Quain Stott and he looked it over and told me where I needed to add bars, what sizes and thicknesses to use, and gave me a lot of pointers throughout that project. Without his help, this whole deal with putting a big motor in and going fast enough to run PDRA would have never even started.
“Jon Williams helped me get the car running fast only it’s second race out, at Rockingham this spring. We went from a best of 4.39 to running 4.12 in two races. He was a big help and still is. Dale Pittman of Pittman Engineering has been a huge help this year as well, especially when I hurt my motor earlier in the summer. He is a great friend and supporter of mine. There have been more who helped in various ways this year too, and I want everyone who has helped me through this journey to know how much I appreciate them.”
With two races before the first ever PDRA Champions are crowned, Ferguson has his sights set on claiming his spot in PDRA history.
“If I win the Championship I’m going to be putting that money back into my program. Maybe do more updates to my car or sell my car and put it towards getting a newer one. I have a really good motor and transmission, but having a newer car would be good if I am going to keep racing this fast stuff. I’d like to come back and run PDRA next year, for sure.
“I really like racing with the PDRA. I like how fast it is. That throws a lot of other variables into winning the race. It takes a lot more than just being able to put up a good package (light and dial). I like all of the PDRA people and all the guys I race with. They’re all really good racers, some of best out there. They’re tough competitors and this points lead is going to be tough to hang onto, competing against guys like Ronnie Davis, Dylan Stott, Bruce Thrift, Aaron Glaser and others. They are all highly experienced Top Sportsman racers, former and present champions. Those guys are tough.”
Going into PDRA Dragstock at Rockingham Dragway, Ferguson hangs on to the TS lead by 120 points over Dylan Stott, who won the last event. Bruce Thrift is just 70 points behind in Stott in third. With two races left it’s still anyone’s game in Top Sportsman. Win or lose the Championship, Dan Ferguson has had one incredible rookie year.
Photo courtesy Gary Rowe/Raceworks