Author: Charles McNair

Published

Andrew Davis
Andrew Davis

From Terry Magazine. 

Andrew Davis (BBA ’01) was taking checkered flags while he was a student at Terry. He met his wife in a Terry lecture hall. And the marketing skills he picked up in a Terry ­classroom have been indispensable in a sport where even champion drivers like Davis have to lobby race team owners and sponsors for financial support.

Fans of Herschel Walker could once claim without argument that the Georgia tailback held one indisputable title: UGA athlete with the most impressive combination of speed and power.

Ever.

Well, step aside, Herschel . . . and you better move fast.

Introducing . . . a Terry College grad who jockeys 3,300-pound scream machines filled with highly combustible fuel through opposing teams at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour.

Andrew Davis just stole some of your thunder, ­Herschel.

And he likes being No. 1.

“The best view on a race track,” says Davis (BBA ’01), “is when nobody’s in front of you.”

In October, an hour’s drive from his home on the outskirts of Athens, Davis claimed the prestigious 2015 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Championship at Road Atlanta, reaffirming his status as one of the elite sports car drivers in the world. Coupled with a 2011 Grand-Am Championship — plus 16 first-place finishes against the world’s top drivers, and 52 podium (top three) appearances — the Continental Tire championship represents the pinnacle of Davis’ racing career.

How good is he behind the wheel? Good enough to double as a driving coach, which also helps pay the bills.

Davis works with both professionals and hobbyists to trim hundredths of seconds from their best lap times. In the case of his most famous pupil, actor Patrick Dempsey, Davis helped the Grey’s Anatomy star improve an already superb skill set that enabled Dempsey to finish second in his class at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2015.

“I teach thinking,” says Davis. “Racing is very much a mental game. It’s not just about white knuckles.”

Racing is also a business.

A tough, expensive, time-consuming, dog-eat-dog business.

Maybe that’s why Davis has a Georgia Bulldog decal on his helmet. It’s a symbol of how much UGA and the Terry College of Business mean to him.

Sports car racing is complicated

Davis typically saddles up for two different racing teams in two different categories. Because of its complexity and expense, motorsport racing employs a stair-step system not unlike professional, college, and high school football, as Terry alumnus Tom Moore, president of motorsport consulting firm Darkhorse Autosport, explains:

“We have individual, stand-alone races, with the TUDOR Championship as the highest level . . . like the NFL,” says Moore (AB ’97). “And we have races like the Continental SportsCar Challenge — which Andrew just won — on a level like big-time college football.”

These different categories make sports car racing a great spectator sport — but also somewhat confusing when tracks like Road Atlanta are filled with cars that have vastly different design schemes, powertrains, and racing heritages. Lamborghinis racing wheel to wheel with Porsches and Camaros is a gas to watch. But to the casual observer, it looks like something out of a Mad Max movie.

Extending the football metaphor, Moore notes that Davis competes in both the NFL and college — sometimes on the same weekend.

In the 2015 TUDOR United SportsCar ­Championship GT Daytona class, Davis flew a #22 WeatherTech Racing Porsche around race courses at velocities approaching one-fourth the speed of sound. He and his teammates ran endurance races in that series, hundreds of miles, sometimes 24 hours, driving from bright morning through the black of night to the next dawn. (In that same series in 2014, Davis drove a Porsche 911 GT America, car #27, for Patrick Dempsey’s racing team.)

In this year’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Davis raced to multiple victories for the Stevenson Motorsports team. He ran those events in a Chevrolet Camaro Z2 8.R, car #6, co-driving with Scotland’s Robin Liddell. The Stevenson team races two cars, employs four drivers, and fields 20 crew members.

“A professional driver’s existence is essentially a ‘what have you done for me lately’ type situation, and it’s so rewarding on a personal level to win a second championship,” says Davis. “It proves what I can bring to the table. And the fact that my 2011 and 2015 championships were won with different teams in different racing series shows a certain versatility that I consider very important.”

Davis and Liddell didn’t just win the Continental Tire series, they dominated it.

“My goal as a driver,” says Davis, “is one of continuous improvement, and I feel that I’ve accomplished that in the four years since my first professional championship. This season with Stevenson Motorsports we were much more dominant than the 2011 season with Brumos Racing. We held the championship lead from the second race of the season all the way to the end, and we accumulated more wins and podiums than any of our competitors.”

Davis savors the 2015 championship for another reason — he came so close to winning the trophy the year before. In October 2014, Davis came to Road Atlanta with a chance to win two titles in the same weekend — but came away empty.

 “One thing you learn in this sport,” says Davis, “is just how hard it is to win. Every driver and team out there is hustling. These are some of the best drivers in the world, and they’re in the best machines in the world. So many variables come into play — weather, mechanical issues, wrecks.”

“The podium,” says Davis, with a wry smile, “is a very elusive place.”

The Natural

On the morning of the final day of the 2015 racing season, Davis looked out at a rain-slick Road Atlanta track and reminisced about his younger self:

“The first time I came here, I was four years old. This is where my father raced MG Midgets . . . and where I grew up.”

“Andrew was our PR man,” says his father, Bill Davis. “When he was a little boy here at the track he would check the paddock and come running back to tell us who was the fastest.”

Bill Davis came out of North Carolina, where he earned a baseball scholarship to Chapel Hill. After college, he swapped fastballs for fast cars, saving up to rent a formula Ford. He came across an MG Midget for sale instead, and took it apart. The mean machine he rebuilt won quite a few races. In 1987, Bill Davis took the southeast division in his category. Andrew showed an undisguised passion for motor sports from a young age, along with the fast-twitch physical skills necessary to race and stay healthy.

Call him a natural.

“When he was learning to drive, his mother took him out to practice one time,” Bill Davis recalls, “and he surprised her by using the clutch exactly right on a hill.”

 The conversation was short and to the point.

“How did you learn that?” Diane Davis asked her son.

“Mom,” said Andrew. “I’ve been watching everything you do driving a car for 15 years.”

Marketing turned Davis on like a switch

When Andrew started high school, he struck a ­bargain at the Davis home in Lilburn, where his family had relocated for work. (Bill sold textile equipment, and his mother, Diane, kept the books at a company that turned seaweed into beauty products for a few years, then into fertilizers.)

The deal: If Andrew made good grades in high school, his family would support him as a race-car driver.

His graduation gift? A course at the Skip Barber Driver School — and a miniature factory racecar of his own, a Sports 2000.

He entered Terry to study business in 1997, racing at the same time, first in the “farm leagues,” as he calls them (to Tom Moore, high school football), then at higher and faster levels of the sport. In that environment, college classroom work could have seemed passé. But not to Davis, who sees numerous racing world applications for what he learned at Terry — in particular from senior lecturer Kevin Ellis.

 “Professor Kevin Ellis was absolutely huge for me,” says Davis. “He made marketing exciting. I tried to take all his classes.”

Davis says that Ellis requires his students to make oral presentations, “nine or 10 of them, alone or with teams.” Ellis  relentlessly honed student pitch and persuasion skills, even sending some teams to national sales presentations as part of their education.

Marketing turned Davis on like a switch. He realized that as long as he knew what he was talking about, as long as he was prepared, he could talk persuasively to people. One-on-one. In front of classrooms. To reporters crowding a winner’s podium. To a racing team owner looking to hire a driver.

“Terry helped me so much with communication and marketing skills,” says Davis. “In racing . . . I’m marketing myself in some way every single day.”

His Terry years were also important in the romance and matrimonial department.

“Sitting next to pretty girls in class is one thing, but striking up random conversations can sometimes be difficult,” says Davis, who can thank accounting professor Skip Shockley for making it easy for him to strike up a conversation with his future wife, Lindy Miller Davis (BBA ’01).

“It’s the first day of classes in the fall of 1999, and the first thing Professor Skip Shockley said to us was, ‘Tell the person on your right and your left where you’re from.’ Luckily for me, the person on my right, seated on the aisle, was Lindy. We ended up in the same study group, and we now have a 5-year-old son, Layne.”

Lindy, who works in risk management, is fully aware of the risks her husband both takes and encounters when he heads off to work each day. But she’s confident in his abilities. “I don’t really worry,” she says. “I always know Andrew will come back around the next curve.”

High price of success

The dangers of auto racing are not to be exaggerated. Nor are the physical demands on a race-car driver.

Davis’s vehicle lost its brakes at Virginia International Raceway a few years ago. The car flew off the back turn, slid 300 yards, and flipped end-over-end 10 times.

“It landed where the wheels should have been,” says Davis, “and then it caught on fire.”

As soon as he got a new car with wheels and a full tank, Davis climbed behind the wheel to race again.

The physical wear and tear on drivers takes a steady toll. Temperatures inside a race car climb higher than inside a combat tank in Iraq. The unrelenting 160-decible noise level and teeth-chattering vibration from 560-horsepower engines can crumble young bones into old ones. Knees and elbows stay constantly sore from repetitive motion. Davis has a T-11 compression fracture from a 2001 go-kart accident. (“That’s what happens when you put a race car driver in a go-kart,” he shrugs.)

His second worst bang-up came as a passenger, riding shotgun on a training drive. His customer made a mistake. “We did a big flip,” Davis says, “and got out of a smoking heap of expensive Porsche.”

Since that moment, he no longer rides inside a race car with a student. Still, if Davis isn’t somewhere out on a track . . . well, the thrill is gone.

“In the off-season, when I’m not racing, it feels like a little bit of me is missing,” he says. “That race track out there? That’s my stadium. That’s where I make my living — and that’s where I feel most calm in the whole world.”

Paying dues

From the starting line of his career, Davis craved open-wheel racing. After proving his potential on a few tracks, he stepped up to the Formula 2000 his parents bought for him.

Open-wheel vehicles, as the name suggests, run on wheels set outside the chassis of the automobile. Open-wheel race cars run the Indianapolis 500 and Grand Prix races in Europe. (The autos making all those left-hand turns in NASCAR races are stock cars.)

At age 22, Davis was traveling the Southeast and East Coast, all on his parents’ checkbook.

“It was a lot of money at the time,” he admits, “but looking back, the budget for the entire racing season didn’t match last year’s tire budget for the cars I drive now.” (For the record, one set of racing tires costs a cool $2,300. At Daytona in 2014, just one race, Davis’s team went through 24 sets.)

In the late 1990s, on little racetracks far from spotlights and TV cameras, Davis paid his dues. Anyone who watched him race, though, could see something . . . different.

The Davis kid had the shining.

He won back-to-back open wheel formula car championships in 1997-1998, when he was a freshman in college. In 1999, he won the SCCA Formula Continental Southeast Division Championship, and in 2000 he took the US Formula Ford 2000 Championship, earning multiple top-five finishes.

 “Those lower levels paved the way to pro driving for me,” he says. “They got me to where I am.”

Davis jumped to sports car racing in 2001, finishing as high as second in a tough Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta his first year. All that decade, he jockeyed and learned. He drove Porsches, Ferraris, Pontiacs, Camaros. He ran at legendary places named Sebring and Watkins Glen and Barber Motorsports Park. He won pole positions, earned podiums, led the field for hundreds of laps. He ran with teams from Foxhill Racing, Silverstone Racing, Tafel Racing, Stevenson Motorsport, and others.

He put it all together in 2011. In Davis’s first season with Brumos Racing, he and co-driver Leh Keen drove a Porsche to the GRAND-AM Rolex GT Championship.

“You always dream of being a champion,” Davis says. “And it’s so important. When you win a race, you’re hot for a season. Win a championship, it’s there your whole career.”

Tom Moore considers Davis a gifted driver.

“In my experience,” says Moore, “understanding how to drive, fitness, how the physics and mechanics of the car work, those are all common among the top drivers. But the great ones, like Andrew, push through the roadblocks the sport puts out there. They just want success a fraction more than the next guy . . . and that fraction is the difference.”

Moore pauses a moment, then adds a point.

“Also, the great ones understand the whole sport. They get the importance of the fans, the marketing, and the press. Within the ethics of the sport, they will find a way to win, both in the car and out. Someone with less desire than Andrew will fall just short.”

Motor sports is a business

In Davis’ sophomore year of college, he landed a job at Road Atlanta as an instructor with Panoz Racing School. Suddenly, his visibility shot up . . . and so did his awareness of what it took to win, not just compete.

“That exposure to the whole racing business was integral to my success,” Davis says.

The whole racing business.

Davis wakes up every morning understanding, down to his racing bones, that motor sports is a business.

A smart businessman knows to diversify. Davis says he wants to spend 50 percent of his time racing, 50 percent of his time coaching. (In 2015, the mix neared 60/40.)

“At this stage in my career, it’s important to focus on being a racing driver,” says Davis. “Racers have a shelf life and will not remain in demand forever. 

“I’ve spent so much time and effort developing a driver coaching business because I want to ensure that I can remain relevant in the sport once I take off my helmet for the last time. Plus, I truly enjoy the act of coaching, sharing my passion and knowledge of the sport with like-minded people.”

  Busy with two top-level racing contracts this year (Stevenson Motorsports and AJR WeatherTech ­Racing), Davis focused his coaching programs on high-level opportunities. He fostered a relationship with Kelly Moss Motorsport (KMM), supporting that organization as team driver coach. (KMM competes in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Challenge Series, Porsche Club of America, Pirelli Drivers Cup, and a few other select series.) Davis’ work with 10 drivers from the KMM camp at venues across North America added 10 additional events onto his jammed schedule. 

Davis also took on a new client, Phoenix American Motorsports, in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, a high-level professional racing series focused on shorter sprint races. The new deal with Phoenix spreads his reach even further into the racing community. He says it already has helped create future opportunities.

“The financials of racing make for a very fluid situation,” says Davis. “I’ve had contracts that award me a percentage of the prize money, end-of-the-year championship bonuses, podium bonuses, and so on. This season, a nice championship bonus is headed my way for bringing the prize home to Stevenson Motorsports.

“Ultimately, these types of bonuses and incentive programs can be used as negotiating tools with the teams when it’s time to get down to business on a new contract,” he says. “The important thing for me is to ensure a comfortable salary that can be split up either on a race-to-race basis or throughout a given season. It gives me a little more security knowing that I have a solid paycheck coming in on a regular basis. 

“Sports car drivers certainly do not rival our NASCAR counterparts when it comes to earnings, but I’ve been quite happy with my financial accomplishments throughout the years,” Davis adds. “My education from Terry has helped me find success in the business of motorsports.”

It also helps him as an instructor.

Davis can demonstrate how to drive a car, sure. But great coaching, he feels, must do more.

When a wealthy client buys an expensive race car and wants to learn how to handle it, Davis “adds value,” he says, by coaching on the front and the back end of each drive. He credits Terry with helping him understand how to create that customer experience. Davis feels it sets his training apart from competitors.

He uses computer-based metrics to analyze each training lap and compare it to other runs. He can show a driver why narrowing the angle going into a turn by one inch will shave a second or a half-second off a lap. He can teach a driver how to walk a track (Davis inspects every foot of race course with his team … on foot … before a race) to spot the tiny bump or to see what happens to the road beyond a blind turn … to know how to race, not just to race.

Davis sends track notes to novice customers. He sends thank-you notes with invoices. He makes it personal.

Just the way Terry taught him.

The trophy case

The upstairs of the Davis’ handsome, two-story home in Watkinsville holds Andrew’s desk, all of Layne’s toy trains, and a racing simulator. Similar to the ones used to train jet pilots, the simulator allows Davis to virtually drive the tracks at upcoming venues. The device displays laser-sighted tracks and graphics.

It also “has a reset button . . . for when you smash the car,” says Davis.

His upper room just needs one thing.

More room for trophies, including the one for this year’s championship.

Davis’s shiny hardware fills a big glass case. He can point to any one of his glittering prizes and recount a race or season, the highlights sharp even though they passed in a 190-mph blur.

These glory days feel good, worth celebrating. Still, Davis knows every driver eventually hangs up the helmet . . . even a helmet with a UGA logo on it.

“I’m a proud Bulldog,” Davis confesses. “I want to be more involved with Athens and the university one day.”

He floats the idea of creating a fitness regimen facility for race car drivers, perhaps teaming with the university to share talent and facilities. He likes the idea of helping other drivers deal with injuries and health issues unique to racing. He could also coach full-time.

His dream job?

“Outside of my family, I really love two things,” he says. “Race cars and TV.”

If past experience is any indication, Davis might just be a natural in a broadcast career, where he could combine his infectious personality and strong communication skills with his knowledge of racing.

A few years back, Davis attended a Petit Le Mans event purely as a fan. He didn’t have a team or a car at that time. The night before the race, at a Porsche banquet, he ran into a commentator handling Internet coverage of the race who invited him to stop by the broadcast trailer “for 10 or 15 minutes,” says Davis.

He must have made a favorable impression because he remained at the microphone for seven hours.

“I ended up commenting on half the race,” says Davis, who seemed so at home at the microphone that the main broadcaster even left the trailer at one point to get a sandwich.

So Davis ended up calling part of the race solo, a rookie color commentator who sounded like a veteran.

That’s his way. A bulldog in a dog-eat-dog ­business. And one with a clear conscience.

“I like to think that I’ve achieved the things I’ve achieved in racing without stepping on a lot of heads along the way,” says Davis. “Inside the racing business, I want to be known as a driver who is very fast, very clean — and who gets the most out of a car.”

And outside the business?

“I want to be a very grateful person . . . with a lot of people to thank for my success.”