Davis takes care of business, deserves more respect
Although Bill Davis' team is struggling, he deserves more respect for his humility and accomplishments, writes David Newton.
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Bill Davis was watching the television monitor -- he can't remember for what race -- as his No. 22 Toyota driven by Dave Blaney went three wide into the turn between two of the more high-profile drivers in the Nextel Cup garage.
He remembers vividly how the analysts discussed the times of the drivers around Blaney, not once mentioning his name.
"And all three were racing their guts out for a spot in the top 10,'' Davis said. "I guess they thought they were lapping the 22. It's what they acted like.''
Davis leaned back in the director's chair outside of Blaney's hauler. Take away the mustache and glasses and he could pass for Rodney Dangerfield.
OK, so there's really not much of a resemblance.
But they do have the same problem with respect. Neither gets it.
The difference is Davis doesn't talk about it like Dangerfield does. He doesn't draw attention when he walks into a room like a Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs or a Jack Roush.
He doesn't just show up at the track on Sundays, shake a lot of hands, sit on the pit box and then fly home.
He's not about self-promoting, although he would like for his drivers, employees and sponsors to get more of the attention they deserve for the hard work they do.
"I'm just a pretty simple guy from Arkansas that wanted to come down here and do this,'' Davis said. "I didn't come down here because of my ego or because I had a whole lot of money I wanted to spend and throw around and try to impress somebody with it like a lot of them do.
"I'm just a hardworking guy that wanted to race and thought he could do it. And we've had some success. We won the Daytona 500 the Southern 500. We were top 10 in points in several series, top five several times. We're doing OK.''
Davis has done more than OK. He helped many of today's Cup stars such as Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte get their start. He's had 98 top-10 finishes and collected more than $31 million in race winnings.
He builds engines that are as good as almost any in the garage, as was proven during a dyno test a few weeks ago following the Atlanta race.
He also runs three teams in the Craftsman Truck Series and employs about 300 people at his race shop in the triad area of High Point, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C.
So he doesn't run a tiny team as many perceive.
"We didn't get a lot of credit when we were top 10 in points and winning some races,'' said Davis, referring to the 1999 and 2000 seasons in which Ward Burton finished ninth and 10th in points.
"We're not down in Mooresville like most of the teams. We're not self-promoters like some teams in here. We just try to do our job and race. So yeah, maybe we don't get the credit we deserve. But that's OK. If you have enough success they'll have to give you credit.''
Last weekend was somewhat of a success for Davis. He got both of his drivers, Blaney and Jeremy Mayfield, into the inaugural "Car of Tomorrow'' race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Although neither had the desired results -- Blaney was 23rd and Mayfield 34th -- it felt like a victory for the owner who struggled for a couple of seasons without manufacturer's support before Toyota welcomed him to its family this season.
But aside from an occasional smile of satisfaction, Davis was no different last weekend than any other.
That doesn't mean the struggles are easy. Watching Mayfield go home the first four races, knowing he had the equipment to make the show, was "horrible, miserable, embarrassing and anything you can add to that.''
"It's been really hard,'' Davis admitted. "It was well-documented how optimistic I was about this year. I still am. We've got the manufacturer now. We've got the best bodies and most horsepower. We've got the best set of drivers we've had and the best depth organizationalwise.
"We're still going to put all that together and have the best year we've had in a long time, but it just isn't coming as easy as we hoped it would.''
And it's not easy being Davis in a garage where egos are larger than bank accounts.
When his teams struggle it's because they're supposed to or because something is wrong with Toyota.
"Ray Evernham, he's got Scott Riggs [39th] in points, Kasey Kahne [34th] and Elliott Sadler [13th],'' Davis said. "I didn't read anywhere that Dodge is struggling or that Ray Evernham is struggling.
"But if they chose to write about that, it wouldn't be that Dodge is struggling. It would be that Evernham is struggling. That's the way the Toyotas need to be treated.''
Davis isn't one to dodge criticism. He believes Toyota has taken unfair shots for the struggles of its seven full-time Cup teams, none of which is in the top 35 in points and locked into Sunday's race at Martinsville.
He insists Toyota has given him and the other organizations, Michael Waltrip Racing and Team Red Bull, all the support an owner could want.
"The teams are struggling,'' he said. "Not Toyota.''
Davis and Toyota are a perfect match in many ways. Neither entered the sport beating its chest and predicting dominance. They both quietly go about doing their jobs.
"There's probably not a better potential partner in the business for us,'' said Lee White, the general manager for Toyota Racing Development. "His way of doing business suits our company to a tee.
"He's not demanding. It's not really about making a lot of money at it. It's more about getting the job done.''
White, also an Arkansas native, has known Davis and his wife, Gail, since 1988. He was working for Roush Racing and building motors for Davis when a couple of young drivers, Gordon and Martin, entered the Busch series.
One has to wonder how Davis' life might have been different had Hendrick Motorsports not lured Gordon and his crew chief, Evernham, away after two seasons in which the former open-wheel star collected three Busch wins, 12 poles and 15 top-five finishes in 61 starts.
Or how life might have been different had he been able to hang on to Bobby Labonte, who went on to win the 2000 Cup title with Joe Gibbs Racing.
But Davis doesn't think in those terms. As far as he's concerned his career has been a success and the best may be yet to come.
He believes he can be as good as many of those teams on the second tier behind Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.
"A few years ago, we were in the top 10 in points and winning races,'' he said. "Hopefully, we made a big step in that direction getting Blaney and Mayfield in [at Bristol].
"But we've still got the rest of the year and lots to endure.''
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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