Editor’s note: People aren’t always defined by their day jobs. There are plenty who have quite fascinating second jobs or pastimes. Our series, Like Night and Day, shines the spotlight on those who are finding time for their passion, after their 9-5. Today, meet financial planner Danny Padden. Car drifting is his pastime.
Colorful cars zip around parking garages in a full-throttle race to the bottom, accompanied by a soundtrack of techno drowning out the revving engines and screeching tires.
That was my impression of drifting cars, straight out of the movie, The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.
I was more than a little wrong about it, but Danny Padden set me straight.
Danny is no stranger to taking the hand of someone who has no idea what they’re doing and leading them into understanding. Because when he’s not behind the wheel of his drift car, Danny works as a financial advisor for Padden Financial Services.
Growing up on a family farm near Valley Grove, West Virginia, Danny’s first introduction to the kind of fun that can only be found on wheels came in the form of riding dirt bikes. In high school and college, he started learning about car drifting through videos online, which is important because it’s difficult to describe drifting in words. To the uniformed, drifting looks like the car is going perilously sideways, but those who know drifting see a delicate dance between man and machine.
“Drifting is making your car slide out on purpose,” Danny said. “For the most part, you’re in control, but you’re going to go into a corner and pushing the car beyond its limits of grip, so that the rear of the car slides out.”
As Danny explained, almost every driver has experienced the feeling of drifting while driving in snowy or icy conditions. The tires slip on the ice and, in an effort to regain control of the car, the driver usually ends up hitting the brakes and doing a donut. In drifting, those donuts become half circles that a skilled drifter can match up in a show of control.
“It’s not a race,” Danny continued. “There is competitive drifting, which I don’t do, but it is fun to watch. If you’re drifting by yourself, you’re trying to link a series of corners together without the car straightening. It feels like sled riding almost, but it’s more like skateboarding or figure skating than racing.”
If it sounds like it’s making order out of chaos, then that might be one aspect drifting shares with financial planning. Danny said a lot of his work consists of helping clients understand their money, whether that means planning for retirement or creating an emergency savings.
“Best part of the job is when you have someone new come in. You get to deal with a lot of intelligent people, and they’re focused on other things, but finance isn’t their ballpark,” he said. “You’re giving them a foundation on which to compartmentalize their income and figure out where they are financially or see where they’re spending too much or ask themselves what their goals are and then decide how much they need to set aside every week or month. In a lot of cases, you have people who come in and don’t know where to start and, usually within a few hours, they feel a lot better, and that’s kind of cool. It’s not rocket science, but we got taught the Pythagorean Theorem in school instead of how to balance a checkbook.”
In becoming a financial planner, Danny followed in the footsteps of his father, Matt Padden. The elder Padden retired in 2018 after more than 20 years owning the business. Danny said his initial ambition wasn’t to continue the family business, but after briefly moving away from the area, he found himself happily back in Wheeling finishing college at West Liberty University with a degree in business management.
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“A lot of people I went to high school and college with had a mentality of ‘we got to get the hell out of here,’ and I get that. I dropped out of college, moved to Maryland with a friend, and it was eye-opening,” Danny said. “If you want something in Wheeling, you kind of have to make it happen on your own. But, because there’s not ‘the old guard,’ you kind of just have flexibility to do what you want, and no one’s going to tell you you can’t. I hate everyone knowing everybody’s business, but it seems like an easy place to keep your head down and do your own thing, so I kind of a appreciate that.”
Padden has lived in Dimmeydale for the last few years with his girlfriend Miranda and their dog Momo. When he isn’t working or spending time at home, drifting has given him the opportunity to travel extensively, moving within a worldwide community that Danny said is like a big family.
“I have friends who I met just because I liked their car. That turns into crashing on people’s couches in different cities. I’ve gone to Ontario, Canada, to drift. My friends and I have gone out to Wisconsin to watch events and see friends there. You end up making near and dear friends who happen to live eight and 12 hours away from you,” he said. “I assume a lot of sports and hobbies are like that, but I’ve even gone to Australia twice with friends. Both times, I specifically chose those dates so I could go to a drift event there.”
In a spot on the Australian coast he called “annoyingly beautiful,” Danny met up with a group of drifters he found on Facebook.
“It’s all people who really care about the style of the car and the expression of it. They call it ‘Halfway Hangs’ because it’s halfway between Sydney and Brisbane,” he said. “It’s a car show one day, and then you go 15 minutes down the road and drift on a go-kart track. Even though I’m going 11,000 miles away, we all understand what each other is saying.”
As Danny went on to tell me about friends who have had cars shipped to Japan or Europe to spend a summer fully immersed in drifting, I wondered what the business side of him would say about those kind of trips.
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“The job has taught me to be nervous about not having an emergency funds,” he said. “With that in mind, I’ve never gone for broke and had a wonderful endless summer of drifting, but I have multiple friends who do every year. I don’t think they have any regrets, but I think they have some stressful nights. I know it’s just for fun, and I don’t want to lose myself within it. The dedication of some of these drivers is just so immense. It’s a life. I keep a balance of travel, and I don’t overdo it, for better or worse.”
Just like night and day, the two things — financial planning and car drifting — seem like they couldn’t be more different, but somehow in the balance, it works. Danny said he feels immensely blessed by the life his pastime has brought to him.
“My whole life is just me getting lucky with stuff so far,” he said. “The amount of effort I’ve put into drifting pales in comparison to what drifting has given me back.”
• Cassie Bendel was born in Wheeling and raised in Bellaire. A graduate of St. Vincent College, she began her writing career as a reporter with The Times Leader and the Steubenville Herald-Star before writing content for SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a national faith-based consulting company. After more than a decade in Pennsylvania, she has moved back to the Ohio Valley with her husband and two sons.