Johnny Davis is NASCAR’s Past – And Future?
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
David Green has become a fixture in the NASCAR series now known as Nationwide. Over 19 years, he has nine wins and was the 1994 champion. He’s driven for some of the most powerful teams in the sport, including Hendrick Motorsports.
But last year, when he was about to go a whole season without a single start, it wasn’t one of the powerhouses he looked to for a ride. He sought out Johnny Davis, the long-time underdog car owner from Gaffney, S.C.
Davis, a tough, burly man who could easily be mistaken for a mechanic as he’s rarely seen without a wrench in his hand, fields two teams. His cars are often plain white and carry the numbers 0 and 01, all signs of a chronic lack of financial support.
Still, for Green, Davis was the perfect choice for his attempt in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Johnny was exactly the guy I wanted to do it with because he is what this series is all about,” Green said. “He’s a guy who puts his heart and soul into it. He doesn’t have Cup support, doesn’t have a lot of sponsorship on his car, just like we all started.”
The initial plan was a start-and-park effort, the most prudent financial decision for both at that point. But being the racers they both are, that soon changed.
“He was kind enough to let me run the whole race,” Green said, adding that both enjoyed working on the car and trying to make it better throughout the race.
Green said owners like Davis are the best hope for future growth of the Nationwide Series, especially given the current economy.
“Sooner or later people are going to understand that the Cup Series owners and drivers are not going to support this series for too much longer,” Green said. “With the economy the way it is, if somebody’s going to cut back, they’re going to cut back in Nationwide.”
Davis senses the same things, and he’s trying to seize on the opportunity. He’s expanded his shop, hired more employees, bought two new cars and re-bodied others in an attempt to transform his team into a contender for top-10 finishes.
Davis’ No. 01 is driven by Danny O’Quinn. The car has had several drivers including Mark Green, the middle brother in David Green’s family.
O’Quinn has seen how the other half operates in NASCAR. He won 2006 Nationwide rookie of the year driving for Jack Roush. But when he lost his ride, he felt fortunate that Davis gave him a chance to restart his career.
“A lot of teams are coming and going, but Johnny’s been solid for the last few years,” said O’Quinn, who also works as a mechanic on his cars. “Johnny may not have the most money, but he’s always here. He’s in the shop working all the time. He’s a hands-on owner doing what he can to make his cars faster.
“I’ve gotten to see a lot over the years. It’s neat to see things from his perspective.”
Davis has made his living with race cars for years. As a youngster, he had hopes of driving his own cars. “But by the time I got done working on them I was so tired I wasn’t worth a darn as a driver,” he said. “So I started hiring drivers.”
His first was Slick Johnson, Davis’ fellow South Carolinian who was later killed in a crash at Daytona. Greg Sacks has driven his cars. His best years came in the mid-1980s, with Joe Henry Thurman of Rocky Mount, Va., driving.
“We qualified sixth at Daytona in a car we built on cement blocks in the garage,” he said, and there were strong top-10 finishes at several superspeedways.
This past off-season, he’s gambled his time and money on a bid to relive some of those 1980s days.
“We really worked hard this winter, and spent more than we ever have,” he said. “I figured this would be our better year with the economy bad. That’s why we spent the money we did.
“I think there are some races where we can run in the top 10, if we can stop creating our own bad luck.”
But no matter how it turns out, he says he has a lot to smile about.
“It’s been a good life,” he said.