We all know what a gallant effort Dodge has made in the 211/42 years since its "Second Coming"-scoring three wins in the '01 NASCAR Winston Cup series along with two more so far this year (through midseason), including the '02 Daytona 500.
This year's win by Dodge in the Daytona 500 was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The following is the first installment in a series of articles designed to give a glimpse behind the scenes at the talent Dodge has assembled for its assault on the Winston Cup Series in 2002. This month we'll ride along with Bill Davis Racing (BDR) and the Caterpillar-sponsored No. 22 Dodge Intrepid R/T to see how BDR shifted into victory lane in motorsport's biggest race.
From The BeginningWe can't begin this story without recognizing the insight of Bill and Gloria Davis, who over the last two decades have brought the likes of Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, and Ward Burton into the Winston Cup Series. And looking toward the future, Scott Wimmer is scheduled to make his debut in a Dodge Intrepid R/T later this season.
Bill and Gail Davis already built a successful trucking business before they ever thought of getting into the racing game. Although their endeavor began as a hobby, that didn't last long.
"I've been involved in racing since high school," says Bill. "During that time, I helped Bob Himes' Top Fuel drag racing team. They were a local team that operated out of a shop in Little Rock, Arkansas, close to my house. From 1969 until 1972 I raced motorcross at some local tracks around Little Rock and across the United States."
In the early '80s, with his booming trucking business underway and Gail handling its day-to-day operation, Bill became involved in ASA racing with the late Julian Martin, father of now "Winston Cup" great Mark Martin.
"I grew up knowing the Martins," says Bill. "My father and Mark's father, Julian, were good friends. Julian sparked my interest in both racing and the trucking business."
Bill jumped in with both feet in 1987, building and campaigning an ASA car for Mark Martin to compete in the Midwest.
In 1988, Mark joined the newly formed Jack Roush organization in Winston Cup, but Davis wanted to continue his race team if sponsorship could be found. Davis, Martin, and the Carolina Ford Dealers formed a Busch team, and their relationship continued through the end of the '90 season.
It was then that Martin encouraged Davis to commit full-time to the racing business.
"At the end of the '90 season, Mark told me that if I wanted to be taken seriously I had to commit and move to North Carolina," says Davis. "I told myself that I really liked being a part of racing, but I had a business and employees in Arkansas. I was on the fence. I didn't know what to do."
Well, Davis made the move, and as they say, the rest is history.
After a call from then top Ford executives Lee Morse and Michael Kranefuss, Bill cast his watchful eye on an open-wheel star from the midwest by the name of Jeff Gordon.
Bill liked what he saw and gave Jeff a tryout at the Rockingham Busch race in 1990. "Jeff qualified on the outside pole at Rockingham in his first Busch series race, and that made up our minds," said Davis. "I signed Jeff to drive the Carolina Ford Dealers car for the '91 season.
"In 1992 we got backing from Baby Ruth and hired Ray Evernham. We had a phenomenal season. We broke every record there was, including 11 pole positions (a single-season record), most money in a season, and most laps led."
Gordon and Evernham's success wasn't overlooked by other owners. While Davis was working on plans to take the pair to Winston Cup in 1993, Gordon and his crew chief were lured away by Rick Hendrick.
After losing Gordon and Evernham, Davis regrouped, signing then-rookie Bobby Labonte and Maxwell House to a full-time Winston Cup deal. They finished 19th in the points, scoring top-5 and top-10 finishes, and a pole, in 1993. Davis and Labonte worked together through the '94 season, after which Maxwell House made the decision to get out of racing.