HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Until this year's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, Bill Davis had never missed a NASCAR event in which one of his cars was entered since becoming a car owner in 1987. After complications from a kidney stone...
HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Until this year's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, Bill Davis had never missed a NASCAR event in which one of his cars was entered since becoming a car owner in 1987. After complications from a kidney stone process forced a 10-day hospitalization, Davis eventually missed five Winston Cup weekends, returning for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona on July 7.
The travails of the popular owner were well-documented as Davis regained his strength. But the very nature of his hands-on approach to ownership created a potential crisis of sorts when his five-week absence (accompanied by wife, Gail) left BDR without two of its three key managers during a critical operational period.
From the time he had moved to North Carolina from his native Arkansas, the Davis' had steadily grown their motorsports operation to it's current three-team status, encompassing the NASCAR Winston Cup Series programs for Ward Burton (#22 Caterpillar Dodge) and Dave Blaney (#93 Amoco/Siemens Dodge) as well as the NASCAR Busch Series program for rookie Scott Wimmer (#23 Jani-King Pontiac).
Already the owner of many hats in the overall BDR organization, General Manager Mike Brown assumed a larger burden as Davis moved through his recovery, the first-such period the team had ever experienced and a litmus test for the long-time friends and business associates.
"Bill and Gail have grown this business by being involved in all aspects of the day-to-day operations, but when he got sick and Gail needed to stay with him, we really had the first test of whether the people we had in place in key positions could pick up and go on without them being involved in all the areas they work in each day," said Brown now in his fifth season as General Manager for Bill Davis Racing.
"We'd been friends for a long time before I came to work here in this capacity so even my role as General Manager has been a gradual evolution to the point where the entire system was tested this summer. We've had a unique relationship. We think alike in the way we look at the business, anyway, so I've always been a good supplement for he and Gail in this position. They wanted someone to view the team and work with the team as if it was his own and I do.
"But when he so sick, he had to trust that everything would move ahead as it needed to. And it did. When he returned, he realized that the shop was still here, the four walls were still standing and we had good people who just picked up a little here and there in their own areas and kept going.
"Hopefully, what that will allow Bill and Gail to do is realize that they don't have to be here every minute;that if they want to take some time and go on Kyle's (Petty) motorcycle ride, then can. If they want to take a few days for themselves, they can. They've both earned that with all that they've put into building this team.
"We've got great crew chiefs in Tommy Baldwin, Jr., Doug Randolph and Bootie Barker that get their teams to the track ready to go. We hated to see him away for so long but good things may have come out of the experience."
Brown began his relationship with BDR in 1991 as a race-day tire changer for then-NASCAR rookie Jeff Gordon and continued as a "weekend warrior" for the team while maintaining his regular job as a computer specialist in his native Georgia. He moved to North Carolina with his family to become Team Manager in January, 1997. Prior to joining BDR, Brown served as Team Manager for Georgia-based Speedway Motorsports (1988-91) and served as a weekend crew member for Bill Elliott's NASCAR Winston Cup operation.
But despite the growing demands on his current schedule, Brown has not relinquished his race-day roles as an over-the-wall pit-crew member for the #22 Caterpillar team nor strategic position alongside Baldwin to plot the in-race fortunes of Ward Burton's weekly Winston Cup effort. The most recent challenges with Davis' absence have forced Brown to realize that—as his management profile increases—his latitude for his other team involvement is decreasing on a daily basis.
"I've always been a tremendously competitive person and I really, really enjoy staying involved with the pit-crew and the actual race-day operations," said Brown. "I like what I do every day so much that I tell people sometime that this is my‘ golf game'. But the day is coming when I know I'm going to have to let go of some of the things like that and assume a bigger-picture position.
"When Bill and I first got to know each other, I was just coming to change tire on the weekends and working my 9-to-5 job in Georgia. Still, we'd end up talking probably 2-3 nights a week about things on the business side of NASCAR and that's where the bigger trust grew between us. We knew we'd eventually work together.
"By the end of 1996, I knew I'd changed enough tires, wanted to work in the sport fulltime and Bill needed someone to fill this position. It's been great to be a significant part of all the growth that's happened over the past few years—the facility expansion, the addition of the second Winston Cup team and the continuation of the Busch Series program and the move to Dodge this season.
"But with Bill's illness, it's like we've come full-circle, where now my role is to assume the seven-days-a-week worries and a lot of the day-to-day challenges that he's always wanted to handle. Hopefully, he'll now be able to step back a little but and feel better about it when he does. But it's me that's waking up now at 3-4 a.m. wondering how I'm going to get something done the next day."
Paramount on that list for Brown and Davis is finding a primary sponsor to replace BP-Amoco on Blaney's #93 Dodge and securing additional sponsorship for both the #23 Busch entry and the #22 Caterpillar Dodge. The process is moving forward, but Brown admits that his perspective about the sport's toughest challenge—identifying potential sponsors—has also changed a bit since the addition of Amoco and the second BDR team prior to the 1998 season.
"We put our expansion plans in motion when Amoco came aboard in 1998 and—while we hate to see them decide to get out of the sport—their sponsorship enabled us to begin this growth-period as well as get together with Dave Blaney, who we feel is going to be a fixture in the Winston Cup for a long time," said Brown.
"But things have changed dramatically here at BDR since we moved into this chapter of our growth. Now, it really isn't an option to NOT have a second Winston Cup program—with the facilities and the systems and the people in place that we have. It's not a matter of pride or one of competitive advantages.
"We're also confident that we're one of the best 2-3 possibilities that any company interested in coming into the NASCAR Winston Cup Series will have for the 2002 season and beyond. We've been so busy with the expansion and the growth of Bill Davis Racing that we've really not been able to step away from that and appreciate all that's been done here and how it's viewed in the sport.
"Almost everyone in the sport who knows Bill Davis knows he's a great guy, has a great organization but is someone who's also been viewed as sort of an underdog. I think that's why there was such great concern from some many people in the industry when he was out of the picture last month. But we're in a position now to feel like we have just as much to offer as any other organization in the sport. It's been a long journey to get here and we're not about to stop progressing now."