Danny Valadez

The ferry, with its direct routes and lack of hassle, is one of the fastest ways to travel throughout the Bay Area. Ferry mechanic Danny Valadez knows a thing or two about going fast.

Not only has Danny Valadez worked for Golden Gate Ferry for the past seven years, but hes also a professional racecar driver who built his own sportsman-class dragster capable of going 174 miles per hour.

BY MATT LARSON

Published: July, 2017

 

The ferry, with its direct routes and lack of hassle, is one of the fastest ways to travel throughout the Bay Area. Ferry mechanic Danny Valadez knows a thing or two about going fast. Not only has he worked for Golden Gate Ferry for the past seven years, but he’s also a professional racecar driver who built his own sportsman-class dragster capable of going 174 miles per hour. So if you’re ever a passenger on one of Golden Gate’s ferries, rest assured you’re getting to your location as fast as is safely possible.

 

Right after high school, Valadez began working as a professional engine builder, which became his specialty for the next 30 years. He built engines for cars, boats, trucks, hot rods—almost anything that moves. “Whatever came in the door, that’s what we did,” he said.

 

He even learned how to grind crankshafts, which is a highly specialized skill in the industry that few people ever master. “It’s a very technical process and an extremely precise endeavor,” he explained. “I’m dealing with tenths of thousandths of an inch. That’s about 1/30th the diameter of your hair; so if you could split your hair 30 times—that’s what I’m dealing with.”

 

Attention to detail like this has taken Valadez a long way. It’s enabled him to excel as a ferry mechanic, and being able to construct his own dragster is indeed a fringe benefit. He began his official racing career in 1999, and has numerous titles to his name. For example, he won a national open in Fallon, Nevada two years ago and he’s now the proud owner of a Wally award, which is the same trophy that all the pros get when they win a race. In additional, the last time he was racing on television was as a “hired gun” driving someone else’s alcohol dragster (a nitromethane-injected car) that took him up to his personal land speed record of 230 miles per hour in just over six seconds. Most recently, he won his class at the West Coast Super Comp Race Club’s Memorial Day race at Sonoma Raceway (pictured above).

 

A thrill-seeker all his life, Valadez practically grew up on the water as his family spent many summers at Lake Berryessa. Skiing, fishing, swimming and raising hell are some of his most favorite pastimes. Also seeing whose boat was the fastest, of course—the last one he owned went up to 90 miles per hour. Today? No boat. “Actually, I have seven boats,” he laughs, referring to Golden Gate’s fleet. “I don’t need another one.”

 

Even though he’s not out there on the boats as they’re going full steam ahead, Valadez still has plenty of excitement working in the shop. “I never know what I’m going to be doing when I walk in,” he said. “That’s the thing I really enjoy about the job. If you don’t know how to do something, you’re going to learn it! We have to fix everything that breaks.”

 

Born and raised in San Anselmo, Valadez still lives in Marin with his wife, fellow Marin native Kelly. They just purchased a motor home—for traveling, not for racing—and they’re planning a trip down to Pismo Beach later this year. Aside from working, racing, traveling and taking care of his 91-year-old mother, Valadez still finds time occasionally to go bass fishing at the Mount Tamalpais watershed.

       

“I had no big life plan but this is where I ended up, and I love it,” said Valadez, who’s now 56. Especially with the environment at Golden Gate Ferry, he expects he’ll be at this job until he retires. “I love the people, we’re all one big happy family,” he said. “And we just work to get the passengers back and forth every day on time.” If you’d like to cheer for Valadez at his next race, head over to Sonoma Raceway on July 21 to 23 to see him participate in the NHRA Division 7 Drag Races. Go team Valadez!