BOURCIER: Danny Drinan, Problem Solver

Bones Bourcier
Bones Bourcier

INDIANAPOLIS — Wisdom keeps its own schedule. For Danny Drinan, it has recently been showing up at the Indianapolis shop he’s occupied for 26 years.

There ought to be a “Mad Scientist At Work” sign on the door because nothing ordinary has ever rolled out of the place.

The latest car to emerge from Drinan Industries is a quarter midget he calls the Shark. It goes fast and it looks safer than anything seen lately in that category of racing. It is that little rocket that has wisdom knock, knock, knocking on Drinan’s door.

Ah, but more on that later …

Drinan’s racing bio is fascinating. In 1984, while driving midgets and studying mechanical engineering at Arizona State, he met Darrell Soppe, chief mechanic on the Newman-Haas CART team. Soppe offered him a job and Drinan left ASU in his rearview mirror. Four years later, that move came back to bite him. When his name was proposed for an engineer’s role at another team, his lack of a college degree ruled him out.
“I’d gone as high as I could on the Indy car food chain,” he said. Across the next two decades he focused on driving, building and selling midgets, sprints and Silver Crown cars, many unusual enough to put him the crosshairs of tech inspectors.

He says, “If I had an idea that could make my car better and the rulebook didn’t say I couldn’t do it, in my mind that meant I could.”

Such as, oh, a front-axle camber adjuster or a pull-rod suspension. But while his cars met the letter of the rules, they didn’t always meet what others interpreted as the spirit of the rules. He’d debut something on Saturday and by Monday he’d get a fax disallowing his latest toy. Then he’d weld together something else that drove the sanctioning bodies crazy.

Maybe his combination of imagination and defiance was not a great business model for selling cars, but the ones he did sell were awfully fast. In the hands of Drinan, Ryan Newman and others, they won at Phoenix Int’l Raceway, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Pikes Peak Int’l Raceway and the steep Indiana bowls at Winchester and Salem speedways.

“I lived,” says Drinan, “off the USAC pavement stuff.”

When that scene dried up, he supplemented his income with what he calls “fill work,” non-racing fabrication.