HIGH POINT, NC -- When he moved his fledgling NASCAR effort to North Carolina from a backyard shop in Batesville, AK.. nine years ago, Bill Davis moved his operation into 12,000-square foot building in a Thomasville industrial neighborhood. At...
HIGH POINT, NC -- When he moved his fledgling NASCAR effort to North Carolina from a backyard shop in Batesville, AK.. nine years ago, Bill Davis moved his operation into 12,000-square foot building in a Thomasville industrial neighborhood.
At the time, the available space was more than adequate to build cars and engines for then-rookie Jeff Gordon and the #1 Carolina Ford Dealers team. While wife Gail stayed in Arkansas to run the family business, Davis lived right on the site in a modest motorhome parked adjacent to the shop's backdoor.
Most mornings, Davis would get up, eat a bowl of cereal, unlock the backdoor and get to work. He usually was the one to turn the shoplights both on in the morning and off at night. Life was simple. The challenges were considerable. The future was uncertain. His drive, dreams and determination were unmistakable.
Davis' first shop served his visions well, housing Gordon's springboard NASCAR Busch Series program to Winston Cup Series stardom as well as the first full Winston Cup seasons (1993-94) for rookie Bobby Labonte. Though workspace grew increasingly cramped as Bill Davis Racing progressed, Labonte and Davis mounted a substantial challenge for Gordon in their rookie seasons, producing -- until Tony Stewart's watermark season in 1999 -- the second-best WC rookie effort (to Gordon's) of the 1990's. Space was short but the focus was on racing and Davis' made the facility work through the early stages of the 1995 season.
Now, less than five years later, the original shop, it's 42,000-square foot successor as well as the new adjacent 65,000-square foot showplace scheduled to open in late spring appear not to provide enough elbow room for the rapidly-expanding BDR organization, which features the #22 Caterpillar/Polaris team for Ward Burton, the #93 Amoco/Siemens team for WC rookie Dave Blaney and the #20 AT&T team for Busch Series rookie Mike Borkowski.
With the BDR program scheduled to make the switch next season from the Pontiac Grand Prix to Dodge Intrepids, the accompanying research-and-development inherent in getting a new brand ready to race competitively has made Davis' projected floor-plan virtually obsolete.
"We've had plans for the new shop really since the Amoco program first began (in 1998) but no one could have envisioned the good things that were about ready to happen for our race team," said Davis, who is currently ranked 14th in overall career NASCAR earnings after surpassing the $10 million mark in that category two weeks ago with Burton's popular victory at Darlington. "We've had a great experience with General Motors over the past six seasons but the Dodge opportunity was one that almost any owner would have had to consider.
"I have great confidence that the Dodge program in NASCAR will elevate Bill Davis Racing to the highest level in the sport. Not only is Dodge's return to the Winston Cup Series a great thing for everyone involved from the start but I also think it will increase the stakes for the other manufacturers and teams in the sport.
"But we've also made a commitment that we will try to separate what we've got to get done to get ready for next year and what we need to concentrate on at the track to move all our teams and drivers forward. I think Ward's team has a chance to move up in the point standings (from ninth in 1999) and win some races and Dave's team will need to be able to draw from every area of our organization as they get deeper into his rookie season at the Winston Cup level. We'd like to have a completely separate group working on all the elements of the Dodge program for 2001 and let the teams race.
"When we laid out the organizational plan for where everybody was going to be once the new shop was finished, we built in what we thought was plenty of room to grow. We're in the process right now of rethinking all that. It's a good problem to have."
Under his original plan, Davis would move both the #20 Caterpillar/Polaris and #93 Amoco/Siemens Winston Cup teams into the newest building, a facility complete with a huge fabrication area, multiple state-of-the-art paint booths as well as all the amenities necessary for a team on the verge of achieving its goal as a weekly Winston Cup frontrunner.
The #20 AT&T team would then move from Davis' original NC shop into the building which followed it, a spacious self-designed facility completed in mid-1995 under the direction of lifelong friend and BDR Operations Manager Lee Robertson. It is Robertson who has also overseen all aspects of construction for the newest building, now scheduled for completion in early May. The older BDR shop, located less than three miles from the two newer buildings, was to be retained for future expansion within the organization, perhaps as an area for chassis development -- currently the only part of car-development not included in the overall BDR in-house capabilities.
"Our plans for the newest building are to move the #22 and #93 Winston Cup teams sometime in May and that will free up the building we're in now for the Dodge research & development that is already on-going," said Mike Brown, General Manager at BDR and a team member since 1991. "As luck would have it, the timing for completion of the new building will work out just right. If we had been done with the new shop as scheduled in February, we would have likely moved the #20 Busch Series team into our current shop from the oldest building as planned.
But with the construction scheduled moved back, we're now able to move our future program into a fully-functioning building that is set up and ready for the kind of fabrication, painting and prep work that will go into the Dodge development. Timing is everything.
"We anticipated the volume of work back in December and added some new people in each area to help bring the new Winston Cup program online and also get ready for the increased work load when we really start building new cars this summer. We'll likely add a few more people in the fabrication and engine areas but I think we're in good shape going into the next phase here at Bill Davis Racing. It's been great to be here through most of the growth and see it all come together."
An essential complication with Davis' original interest in locating in the immediate High Point area -- and away from the Charlotte area bursting at the seams with race shops -- is that a majority of the sport's talent pool lives in the metro-Charlotte area. The necessary commute to the Piedmont area is just long enough to discourage many potential team members for both the Bill Davis Racing and Petty Enterprises teams as they begin to expand their rosters and their efforts. The infrastructure of the Dodge development effort, however, is solid.
"The people Dodge has brought together are going to be the key to the early successes of this effort," said Davis, who joins Jack Roush, Rick Hendrick, Larry McClure and Butch Mock as the only NASCAR owners to win races in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series. "Kyle Petty is one of my best friends in the Winston Cup garage and has worked extremely hard on bringing this all together. Ray Evernham is the best choice in the sport to head up a project of this scope and significance. And we've got a tremendous group of support players among the three teams.
"Each one of the three teams included for the 2001 Dodge program brings a unique contribution to the overall picture. (BDR Head Engine Builder) Terry Elledge is going to be a very important part of the development as this all unfolds. But the 2000 season is very important to us as well. We want Dave Blaney and the #93 Amoco team to get off on the right foot and have a strong first Winston Cup season. And after the win at Darlington (two weeks ago) and our good start in the points (second-place -- 41 points behind Bobby Labonte entering this week's race at Texas), we also believe great things are ahead for Ward Burton and the #22 Caterpillar team.
"We've got a lot of work to do -- from the shop logistics to the engine development to the testing to the actual completion and approval of the race cars we will use next season. It's an extremely busy time for us all here. Still, it's a great comfort to know what lies ahead in 2001 with the Dodge program. Dodge had a great history in this sport and the return of a famous name-plate like Dodge is a significant process to be involved with. We're excited about the challenges ahead."