Chances are, if you have wandered around the pits of any historic racing event in the past few years, you’ve seen a sticker in the window of a winning car that reads ‘John Danby Racing’.
JDR has been quietly going about its business of preparing race-winning cars since 2002, and is at the forefront of the sport today.
The eponymous boss started out as a fresh-faced kid at Lotus, preparing Elises for the TOCA support races.
When that championship came to an end, he decided it was a good time to build a business for himself and promptly used his own experience of racing Sports 2000s.
“It seemed like a natural place to start,” says Danby, and he began preparing other race-winning cars in the championship.
“Then the realisation came that it wasn’t a terribly good place to make money.”
For his infant firm, the decision was made to step up to the world of historic racing.
One of the key strengths JDR has over its rivals is its comfort in taking on anything from a 1960s Can-Am one-off to ’70s tin-tops, ’80s F1 machines, ’90s Super Tourers, 2000s GT sports-racers, 2010s Le Mans prototype and everything in between.
Every project that enters the workshop adds to the gloriously eclectic mix. “I’ll have a go at whatever comes through the doors,” he says with a smile.
“I think we have a pretty wide skill set,” says Tom Dunstan, a senior project manager.
“We’ve got people here who can do wheel bearings by hand with just the right amount of grease, which is ideal for older cars that need a little finesse.”
“We try and feed the people we have into the jobs that suit them and use everyone’s strong points,” he continues, “which gives us quite a broad spectrum.”
That’s certainly backed up by the range of projects in the workshop.
“And when it comes to doing the things we can’t do, we find the right people,” adds Dunstan.
“I think we’re hitting a bit of a niche. We have one customer, for example, who owns everything from an Aston Martin DB4 all the way up to a modern LMP car, and there aren’t very many places you can go to take that group of cars racing all under one awning.”
The heart of the business is race preparation back at the firm’s Essex base. But, as part of that process, having a presence at circuits around the world is vital for success.
“I like the challenge of the race weekends,” enthuses Danby, “the travel and the adventure of it all.
“I also really enjoy uncovering the history of a car, whether it’s the physical or the engineering history, and understanding why something was done. The cars that have actually achieved something are the ones that interest me the most.”
When it comes to customers arriving with cars at project stage, Dunstan explains that the process begins with a bit of clarity.
“We like to be quite honest with people,” he says, refreshingly.
“And when it comes to more modern machinery, it takes huge sums of money just to get them running in a safe manner.
“We could simply use the old ECU, and we could fire it up if you want, but we would have no idea what will happen: it could be fine, or it could wreck your very expensive racing car.
“We try to help them through it all, even if it’s not great for business; you have to guide people in the right direction.”
The final word goes to the boss, though: “We keep our customers; they stay for an awfully long time.
“The very first customer JDR had, we still run their car today.”
That says all you need to know about this enthusiastic diehard race fan, who just so happens to run one of the most successful historic racing outfits today.
Images: Max Edleston
This was originally in our October 2020 magazine; all information was correct at the date of first publication
- Name John Danby Racing
- Address Unit 20 Teybrook Centre, Brook Road, Great Tey, Colchester, Essex CO6 1JE
- Specialism Race-car preparation, support and servicing; restoration, machining, fabrication and bespoke engineering projects
- Staff from 10, work dependent
- Prices from £60 plus VAT per hour, depending on project
- Tel 01206 214997
- Web www.johndanbyracing.com
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org