Formula Dodge National Championship racer Dan Di Leo recently made his first pro race start in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in his hometown at the Molson Indy Toronto. Following the action up north, the Markham, Ontario native quickly resumed his...
Formula Dodge National Championship racer Dan Di Leo recently made his first pro race start in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in his hometown at the Molson Indy Toronto. Following the action up north, the Markham, Ontario native quickly resumed his quest for the National Championship, the winner of which gets a fully funded season in the Pro Series for 2002. Di Leo heads to Putnam Park, Indiana to contest rounds seven and eight of the 13 round series. He recently shared his thoughts on his professional debut and his mindset going into this weekend's action.
1) You recently had your first professional race in Toronto. Tell us your expectations going in and how you feel the race weekend went.
After finalizing the behind-the-scene details, heading into the weekend I made a point of setting some realistic goals. I felt that a top-10 finish was achievable and that if everything went well and luck was on my side, a top-five finish wasn't out of the question. However, after the fact, I'm pleased with my 11th place result and more importantly my progression throughout the weekend. I never imagined how intimidating those walls could be, especially in a new car that I had only a limited amount of seat time in. As the weekend progressed, my comfort level was rapidly increasing and it showed as my lap times were coming down with each session.
Track time played a huge part in the outcome of the event and, as a result of many red flags, each session was cut short. Until this day I still think about different approaches I could have taken and what could have been if I just had 10 more minutes. But as I heard many times throughout the weekend, "That's street racing!" and it's something I'll learn to deal with.
2) Tell us what you had to go through to participate in the race.
The idea of debuting in Toronto came about only a month prior to the event, putting a lot of pressure on me to make sure all the little details were taken care of, the business side of the sport, getting all the details from [Pro Series Director] Rick Ratajczak, taking care of the licensing with [Registrar] Jean Fantelli, getting as much advice as I could from [Senior Driving Coach] Barry Waddell, letting all the right people know that I'm racing at the event, and most importantly securing the sponsorship, and taking care of all the people who have helped me in the early stages of my career. After completing all that fun stuff, it was time for me to get serious. I watched a lot of in-car footage from past races, and made a point of talking to some friends who had raced the event in past years.
3) What did you learn about the challenges of seeking sponsorship?
Competing in the Molson Indy was what I view as my first "real test." I have been fortunate to find many secondary sponsors who have helped me out as much as they possibly could. But until this event I always had the luxury of my biggest sponsor (My Dad!) supporting me financially. This time it was different. My parents supported me 100% and helped me out a lot during my month of preparation, but basically it was up to me to come up with the money. After sending out many proposals, spending hours on the phone, and having one meeting after another, I experienced the harsh reality of the sport. That driving is the easiest part! Coming up with the money is a different story. After the first two weeks I had many situations that looked promising, but never materialized. Two weeks has passed and I was still short, really short! But during those two weeks I felt myself maturing and I was learning the little things that make a difference in approaching a potential sponsor. I was determined to come up with the budget. Then finally I caught a break. Time was running out and I was working harder then ever. I approached Michael Ho, founder of Dr. Ho's Muscle Message [www.drhonow.com], who has been helping me out with lower back pains caused from carting incidents. I explained to him my plans to race in Toronto and that I saw a potential sponsorship opportunity in his interest. We set up a formal meeting for the following night and, using the knowledge I had acquired from past interviews, I was able to secure the rest of the budget required.
4) Does the Pro Series race effect your attitude heading into rounds 7 and 8 of the Formula Dodge National Championship at Putnam Park? In what way?
Having this race on my resume, basically confirms my aspirations of competing in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in 2002. Heading into rounds 7 and 8 of the National Championship, I am more determined to come away with more wins and podiums, and bring my career a little bit closer to the ultimate goal.
5) Tell us about any seat time you may have had in the Reynard Dodge 98E before Toronto
Prior to registering for this event I had only three test days in the car. My final test was in early May. Testing went really well. I was able to feel the car respond to some basic adjustments, and my lap times were right where they should have been.
6) What did you think of the Reynard Dodge 98E?
I first tested the Reynard Dodge 98E in February 2001 at Sebring. My first impression was that the car was very compatible with my driving style. However, after competing on a street course, reality taught me that I have a lot to learn in terms of set-up. Skip's engineers were instrumental to my development the whole weekend. It was a great experience for me to learn as much as I did.
7) Any plans for another pros series race this year? Vancouver? How bout more testing?
If it were that easy I would do each and every event from here on in! However, I have my sights set on the National Championship. That's still my priority. I definitely will do some more testing. As a matter of fact, I'm currently working on a budget for one more race, maybe Road Atlanta.
8) What did you enjoy most about Toronto weekend? Anything notable on track or off track?
The most enjoyable part of Toronto was being part of the big show. It was eye opening seeing all the enthusiastic fans, and being one of the hometown favorites. It was hopefully a preview of things to come!
9) How did you find the level of coaching?
I have always been impressed with the Skip Barber organization and its level of professionalism, particularly in the way of feedback. This weekend was no exception. I met some new faces and everyone offered a helping hand. The whole organization is top notch, and it's great to have the opportunity to work and grow in this environment.
10) The Barber Dodge Pro Series bills itself as the Official Entry Level Professional Race Series of CART. Did you get a sense of that during the weekend? Did you feel closer to your goal of a CHAMP CAR ride?
Being invited to the pressroom, signing autographs, taking pictures, and being interviewed was really an education for me. CART drivers go through this sort of thing al the time. I've never experienced like that at that level. It was actually quite fun and illustrated that my ultimate goal of competing in CART isn't that far away. I feel that I learned a lot in terms of the business and sponsorship side of the sport. This understanding can only help in my development as a racecar driver.
- Andrew Torres