By Jeremy Norman
To paraphrase the character Pete “Maverick” Mitchell from the quintessential 1980s film “Top Gun,” Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business student Daniel Silvestri “feels the need — the need for speed!”
Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to use a quote from another Tom Cruise movie, “Days of Thunder,” which featured the actor in the role of a professional race car driver.
Both films are considerably older than the rising sophomore and professional race car driver, but Silvestri more than appreciates the sentiment.
“I’ve been a big fan of racing since I was a kid,” said Silvestri. “Ever since I could remember, I’ve loved watching racing.”
Growing up in Northern Virginia, Silvestri did not come from a racing family. Rather, his love of racing came about organically when he discovered the sport at a local go-kart track.
“When I was about six years old, I went to an event with my parents,” he said. “There was a go-kart track for the kids to race each other on, and that’s when I started driving. Soon after, we found out about leagues where I could race other 6-year-olds, and it kind of escalated from there. Fast forward 12 years, and racing is now something that is a full-time part of my life.”
Racing is not just a hobby for Silvestri; it is his job. For over a decade, hei has been moving up the professional racing ladder, much like how a baseball player moves through the minor leagues on the way to the majors.
After his introduction to racing with go-karts, Silvestri began racing bandolero cars when he was eight years old. These vehicles feature 30-horsepower engines and can reach speeds of more than 70 miles per hour. Finding success with bandolero cars, Silvestri moved on to Legends cars (think 1930s-style cars) at 14 and was racing a stock car by the age of 16.
Silvestri currently races in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series, which is a NASCAR-sanctioned local short-track series held throughout the United States and Canada. He considers Dominion Raceway in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, to be his home track.
“I’ve had a lot of success racing, and I’ve built confidence in my ability to be a good race car driver,” Silvestri said. “There are many moments in my career when I’ve confirmed to myself that, ‘Hey, you know you can do this. You’re good at this.’”
His accomplishments on the track include finishing the 2018 season second overall in the Legends Series, being named the 2019 Virginia Rookie of the Year by NASCAR, finishing the 2020 season second in NASCAR U18 points, and achieving the pole position and the track record for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.
But, Silvestri said, being a good race car driver is more than just what one can do on the racetrack.
“The racing is the fun part of the job, but the real work is making sure I can afford to race the next weekend,” he said.
That’s where Silvestri draws a parallel between his life on the track and his life at Pamplin.
“Racing is very entrepreneurial in and of itself,” he said. “In racing, you need to be able to fund your operation, meaning you need to raise thousands and thousands of dollars. That means working with sponsors and really marketing yourself.”
According to Silvestri, much of that marketing is done via different social media platforms.
“I’m always trying to build my brand across social media,” said Silvestri. “I spend a lot of time reaching out, messaging people and businesses. Cold calling is rough, and you knock on doors not knowing who, or what, you’ll find. It’s a lot of no’s, but sometimes you get a yes. And that makes all the work worth it.”
Balancing college with a budding career in racing is a lot for Silvestri — or any 19-year-old, for that matter. However, he credits the support and flexibility of the Pamplin faculty for enabling him to continue to pursue his passion.
“It’s actually not too bad balancing the two, as I’ve been doing it for a while now,” he said. “When I was in middle school and high school, I was missing a lot of Fridays, having to move tests and assignments around. If anything, being in college made everything a little easier because my classes were not every day, and the faculty were accommodating. It is all about establishing open lines of communication.”
This summer, Silvestri plans on racing every other weekend while also working as a driver coach at his home track for the younger generation looking to follow in his footsteps.
“I’ll be at the racetrack pretty much every weekend this summer,” he said. “Which is pretty normal for me by now.”
“The next step is to move into one of the top three racing divisions of NASCAR,” he said. “I’m currently in the fifth division with the Weekly Racing Series.”
Making the move to a higher division will utilize as much of Silvestri’s skills off the track as on it.But he has his Pamplin business education to assist him along the way.
“Because of how much racing operations cost, it’s more about how much money you can bring in to fund a team,” he said. “I check all the boxes already on the racetrack. Now it is about, ‘Can I foot this bill the team needs me to pay to go and race?’ That’s kind of where I’m at right now, working toward 2023.”