Steve Davis – Driver Profile

SCD: How do you keep the car in shape? When you return from an event do you take care of the car yourself? Do you have a support group?

SD: It’s just my wife and I. When we come back from an event I’ll take the car apart as much as I can. I’ll look at every little piece. Clean the fuel filter, change the oil, bleed the brakes. A lot of people comment on how clean the car is and there is a reason for that. The only way you’re going to inspect a car is to clean it completely. So I clean every little thing. I clean every clamp, every joint, anything that can have any play in it at all. I look for it and then we replace those joints if we need to. I look over everything on the car and I do the work myself. If I need machine work, I take it to Bob Slade. At the track it’s just my wife, Yolanda, and I. Usually when she and I try to unload the car some chivalrous guy will run over and give her a hand, but she is great. She can do timing for me, she’ll run over and get fuel, and she can get tires for me. But she’s not there all the time, she does some antique shopping and things like that so it’s an easy tradeoff and I appreciate her help

SCD: Besides 512 and Tony Adamowicz’s 510, are there any other Mark 5s assembled?

SD: There are none assembled. There are two others. Michael Brayton has one, but I haven’t seen his, it’s in his trailer. The other one is Ron Brown’s and that one I’ve seen in Portland. He runs a race shop and fuel business there. Ron was nice enough before we ran Portland, to let me come down to his shop and look at his car. It’s a pretty neat car, #505 I think. He bought it from Fred Corbett or Monty Shelton, if I remember correctly.

Gurney Eagle Mk.5 of Steve Davis

Gurney Eagle Mk.5 of Steve Davis at CSRG Charity Challenge 2010, Infineon Raceway Sears Point

SCD: Are you going to run Portland this year?

SD: No, I don’t think so. Speaking of photographs, if I can go back to the New Zealand event when this car was crashed. Oddly enough, in 1971 Bruce Leeson was there and took a photograph of this car at that corner. Bruce called me and got me involved in racing the 5000s, helped me find the Eagle, and it turned out to be the car he photographed 40 years ago. He was a pretty talented motorsports photographer at the time.

SCD: The first time I saw you run was the HMSA Laguna event in 2008. Your driving style seems to have improved a lot, is that you or the car?

SD: I think it is a little of both, but a lot on the car. As I mentioned early on the car had really, really soft springs and we had a big problem with the back squatting down and packing air under the nose, actually getting airborne. The car also had some really wicked handling characteristics. At turn-in through the middle of the corner it would push, and at the corner exit it would snap into oversteer.

It’s funny, people who race look for somebody who knows more than they do, and you ask all the questions you can, and as it turns out there were a couple of things going on with the spring rates through the corner. These cars with cam-and-pawl differentials have to be able to roll over. It looks too soft. We stiffened the rear springs to take the squat out, but still soft enough so the car can roll over. What happens is, with the right anti-roll bar, it takes some weight off the inside wheel and lets it actually spin a little bit. If the inside wheel is getting too much grip it’s going to drive you off the corner. So that’s where the push was coming from. We figured that out and then the snap oversteer at the exit was when the car leveled out at the exit the outside wheel would “catch up” with the inside spinning wheel and it went into snap overseer. A little more caster for weight jacking seemed to solve that. The understeer also was because I was going on settings that were over 40 years old. I was explaining to the guy who puts tires on my Jeep, just the tire dealer downtown who runs an old Camaro at track events, and he says, “Well, what’s your front toe?” I told him, and he says, “Run your toe in,” and I said, “I never heard of front toe-in on a racecar,” he told me, “by the time you get up to speed or hard on the brakes it’s toe-out because the car flexes.” So we went to Sears Point and changed it from a little toe-out to a little toe-in, and it absolutely fixed the car. And from that day forward the car’s been great. So the moral is, listen to everyone.

Gurney Eagle Mk.5. Steve Davis

Gurney Eagle Mk.5 of Steve Davis into turn 9 during the 2010 CSRG Charity Challenge, Infineon Raceway Sears Point.

F5000 cars lead by Steve Davis in his 1969 Eagle Mk5

Gaggle of F5000 cars lead by Steve Davis in his 1969 Eagle Mk5

It’s one of the best handling racecars I’ve ever driven. Once you get a car that handles well, then your confidence in the car builds and your driving gets better because you can count on what it is going to do every time. I think that bears true for this car. We got that problem sorted out at the beginning of ’08, but then we had some fuel injection and electrical problems early in the year. And then at Watkins Glen we had a clean weekend for the first time. We had no problems and we were first in class for the older cars, we qualified 4th overall. We won our class in that race and we have won every single race since, except the very last race of 2010 at Sears Point, but we ran fast time there. And also, last year, 2010, we won a few overall poles beating the newer Lola 332s and McRaes, and we won some races outright. Because the car handles this way, we were able to put it on the mark on the spot on the exits. Were able to use the road that before we weren’t able to use because you never knew if you needed another foot or two. A corner worker actually came up to the garage where I was to compliment me on one of my corners and tell me I used same mark on the corner every time, and that makes you feel good. The guy sits there and tells you he watches cars all day and all year and he can tell we’re drifting and we’re sliding out there, but every time we’re hitting the same mark.

Comments

  1. Will Silk says

    Hi Dennis,

    Thanks so much for bringing Steve’s words to the pages of SCD. Always great to read about these classic stock block racers and the people that make them go.

    Cheers!

    Will Silk

  2. says

    Fantastic article. I learned a lot more about Steve and his car than I knew before. Steve is a great driver and an excellent story teller. Thank you Dennis for allowing Steve to tell his story, showcase the Eagle and give us all more insight on a hot lap at Laguna Seca. Seb

  3. Cove Britton says

    Great story Dennis. I always try to say hello to Steve at the races, he is definitely one of the good guys (with a great car) and it is very interesting to hear more about his back ground!

  4. Paul Smith says

    Dennis, this is terrific! I was glued to the text and learned a great deal. The “lap at Laguna Secca” really captivated me, I thought I was even feeling the G forces and worried about where the back end was going. Thanks to you and Steve for a fantastic read.

  5. Dennis Losher says

    Dennis & Steve,

    Thanks for a great article. Neat to discover the background of fellow drivers.

    Dennis

  6. Larry Goldsmith says

    Dennis,

    Thanks for the great article. I know Steve Davis and have seen him race. I have never driven race machines much less the kind such as Steve and the other vintage F5000 are driving, but I find the events exciting and fun to watch. When reading Steve’s detailed account of preparation and the amazing turn by turn recall of racing Laguna Seca I was more impressed than ever about the man and his machine…

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