WARSAW — Donald C. Davidson, historian of the Indianapolis 500, was the guest speaker at the Warsaw Rotary club meeting held Friday, March 3.
He is the only person to ever hold a full time position as a historian at any motorsports facility.
Davidson was born and raised in England. From a young age, he became enamored with racing. He remembers getting race cars in his Christmas stockings. He grew up learning about Grand Prix racing and spent much time reading the sports pages of local newspapers, memorizing race results. He became interested in the Indianapolis 500 in the 1950’s and was able to memorize the results of every Indianapolis 500 race.
Working as a film projectionist in England, Davidson saved money for six years, hoping to one day be able to make the trip to Speedway, Indiana.
In May 1964, Davidson was finally able to attend the Indianapolis 500. He had written to Sid Collins, Indy 500 radio broadcaster, in advance. Upon his arrival, Davidson so impressed staff with his vast knowledge of the race and the drivers that he was given credentials and was invited to make a brief appearance as a guest on the 1964 radio broadcast of the race. On his third day there, Davidson was told that Bob Collins, an IndyStar columnist, wanted to interview him.
Davidson returned in 1965 seeking permanent employment in Speedway. A few days after the 1965 race, Davidson was hired as a statistician by the United States Auto Club, a position he held for 31 years. In 1998 he officially became the full-time historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Davidson has served in some capacity on every radio broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 since his guest appearance in 1964. Davidson is a member of the Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the Richard M. Fairbanks Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.
For many years, during the month of May, Davidson wrote a daily column in the Indianapolis Star about the history of the Indianapolis 500. Davidson is also the author of a book, “Autocourse; Official History of the Indianapolis 500”, which was co-authored by Rick Shaffer.
He has also appeared on ESPN and taught a course in motorsports history at IUPUI. He has been a frequent guest speaker at various engagements including trade shows, social events and awards ceremonies. He is known for his radio program, “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”, which is broadcast annually in May on WFNI in Indianapolis.
During his appearance at the Warsaw Rotary club meeting, Davidson was asked who he feels is the top race car driver of all time. Davidson stated that, as far as versatility is concerned, it is clearly Mario Andretti, adding that there has never been anyone like Andretti, who did so many different things all at the same time.
Davidson impressed those in attendance with his amazing ability to recall details of every Indianapolis 500 race. He can tell you that a DeSoto Fireflite was the pace car in 1956, that the only car to win twice with two different drivers was the yellow Belond Laydown, driven by Sam Hanks in ’57 and Jimmy Bryan in ’58 or that in over 100 runnings of the Indianapolis 500, there has never been a driver with the last name Smith.
Davidson was accompanied by Mike Harmless, former mayor of Greencastle. Harmless is an Indy 500 host committee member and statewide engagement chairperson. Harmless drives Davidson to his speaking engagements.
Davidson stayed to chat and sign autographs after his presentation.