Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

October 1, 2013

IMS historian entering broadcast hall of fame

By Wade Coggeshall wade.coggeshall@flyergroup.com
Hendricks County Flyer

---- — Donald Davidson is already a member of the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, thanks to his capacity as historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now he can add membership in the Richard M. Fairbanks Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame to his resume.

Davidson will be inducted during a ceremony Oct. 3 at the Indianapolis Marriott North Hotel. He’s in a class that includes former WISH-TV Sports Director “Big Jim” Wilson, horror movie host Bob “Sammy Terry” Carter, and broadcast executives Lloyd Wright and Vicki Weger of PBS fame.

Davidson ranks the honor right up there with his other achievements.

“I’ve never earned my living as a broadcaster,” he said. “Typically those who are in that do it as a career. Broadcasting for me has sort of been a sideline to my actual job.”

His call-in radio program, “Talk of Gasoline Alley” (now heard on 1070 AM The Fan), started in 1971 and is still broadcast nightly during the month of May. Davidson still loves fielding questions from callers about the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s flattering because we’ve been doing it for so long,” said Davidson, who’s also a regular on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. “They always have good questions. There seems to be a large group of people out there that care about the things I do.”

Indeed, Davidson is the only person to be a full-time historian for a motorsports facility. He can’t really say what initially interested him in the sport when he was a teen. Davidson is originally from Salisbury, Wiltshire, in southwest England. Racing is huge there, but back then the Indianapolis 500 wasn’t. It is now that many Europeans compete in the race.

The first Indy 500 that Davidson ever saw live — in 1964 — is still the one that holds the most memories for him.

“I just showed up here as an enthusiast,” he said. “I had an opportunity right off the bat to meet the participants. I had no idea it would be that easy to do. Nobody had handlers in those days.”

Virtually all the drivers Davidson met upon his arrival were really nice to him too.

“That surprised me; I thought race drivers would be very intense and even if you got to meet them wouldn’t have much to say,” he said. “They were exceedingly friendly.”

Davidson is considered to have Selective Retentive Easy-Access Memory, knowing an incredible amount of Indy 500 minutia including the results of every race. He says it doesn’t work for general knowledge, just stuff he’s interested in.

“It didn’t work for me in school,” Davidson said. “I couldn’t do poetry, plays, anything like that. But if it was something I was interested in, I seemed to be able to retain it.”

Considering he’s worked in some capacity for the Indianapolis 500 and IMS since his teens, he also can’t answer whether he ever saw himself working outside this historic race.

“When I decided I wanted to come here — in my early teens — it just seemed like it was the thing to do,” Davidson said. “I had this fantasy I’d get to be involved. Where that came from I can’t really say, but it just seemed like I was supposed to do it.”

He’s the embodiment of following your dreams.

“I’m here to tell you it works,” Davidson said. “If you have something you’re interested in and want to pursue, by golly do it. You’ll never know what you end up doing. I have to pinch myself to realize I was able to get involved.”

Davidson does acknowledge he owes his career to Sid Collins, the former anchor of the IMS Radio Network who took him under his wing as soon as he met him.

“I don’t know if that would happen for everybody, but it might,” Davidson said. “If you stay home you know it won’t.”