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Don Gagne: Putting the Analytical Mind to Work on the Track

“Some folks just like getting in their cars and driving them fast,” says long-time ProFormance stalwart Don Gagne. “I like figuring out how to get better. As a driver you can get to a certain level, but getting past that is very difficult. I love doing that kind of analysis.”

For a long time Gagne has been applying his analytical skills to his driving at ProFormance Racing School and on far-flung racetracks. He’s also helped boost the performance of others wanting to squeeze out an extra second on their lap time. A retired Microsoft software engineer, Don now spends his time feeding two passions: drone coding and track driving.

Once he’d wrapped up his Microsoft gig, Don and his wife Carol started a new chapter in their lives helping conservation teams around the world solve technical problems. While those problems can be as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet, the meat of Don’s work is building and programming drones to track animals in the bush, mostly in Africa. A self-confessed “crazy software guy,” Don has made prominent contributions to open-source free software for drone control.

A Feel for the Wheel

Back while he was working at Microsoft, Don picked up a 911, and some colleagues told him to take it to the track. The suggestion surprised him, but he signed up for ProFormance’s One-day High Performance Driving Experience. As so often happens, the experience sucked him in. It was, he says, “like falling off a cliff.”

Don’s relationship with driving and ProFormance led to new developments. He bought a 911 RS America, a stripped-down Carrera, and once again his friends surprised him with a suggestion: race it. “I said, ‘You can just go racing?’” It didn’t take him long to get used to the idea, and for years he was driving in SCCA races all over the Pacific Northwest.

Eventually Don ran his own race transportation business, and went around the country doing Porsche club racing. Though he’s now left competition behind, he’s still an avid track driver. His cars include a Lotus Exige S240 and a Porsche GT3RS.

The ProFormance Difference

Don Gagne and ProFormance Racing School go back a long way – a good quarter century, in fact. Don has done the Rolex 24 At Daytona twice for Team Seattle, a project that he is very enthusiastic about. Don also has a lot of respect for the way ProFormance is run. “Track Day stuff isn’t dangerous,” he says, “but it has to be run well. You’ve got lots of different types of people and you have to put the right people in the right groups. You have to know how to deal with all kinds of people.”

Keeping it All in Focus

Don will never forget his first Rolex 24. Daytona was poorly paved, and his cup car would bounce left and right when he attempted to keep it going straight. “It was one hundred times crazier than anything I’ve ever done. Then you get used to it.”

Driving, for Don, provides a departure from the world of code in which he’s so often immersed. “It’s different. To do it well, driving requires a singular level of focus that doesn’t exist in most other spaces. When you’re out on the track, there’s nothing else going on.” Which is fine, given how much is going on right in front of him on any given track day.

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