Friday Night Lights: James Davison

Posted by Iannucci | 6/19/2009 | 10 comments »
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If there's one thing IndyCar fans love to do it's complain. Actually pretty much all of humanity likes to complain, but since this isn't a site dedicated to covering all of humanity let's just stick to stereotyping fans of open-wheel racing. All of us - yes, YOU included - like to complain, whether it be about "Danica", "ESPN" or the lack of racing.

I'm sure we're all asking ourselves far too often "Where's the passing?", "What's with all of this fuel conservation?", or "How come only two teams can win a race?", but curiously enough none of those questions can be asked of most of the Indy Lights races.

The fact is that although imperfect the junior series of the Indy Racing League is often the most exciting event on shared weekends, possibly due to the lack of pit stops, or the race-to-race contracts, or the fact that many of the Lights drivers just don't have time for this whole "race strategy" deal. Whatever the reason, the races are fun even if you don't know who the drivers are - and even that won't be a problem for long if My Name Is IRLhas anything to say about it.

While most of the IndyCar series drivers get to answer fun questions prime inquisitors like pressdog the poor Lights drivers are stuck answering questions about bland and boring subjects like lap times and downforce, and that's just not fair to these fine men and women. We need to learn more about them as people, because surprisingly enough that's what they are. Starting tonight and hopefully throughout the remainder of the race season this spot will feature a less-than-boring interview with an Indy Lights driver in a recurring series called "Friday Night Lights". Catchy, eh?

This week we kick things off with Vision Racing's James Davison, a second-year participant in the series. James has 21 starts, one win, and an intimate familiarity with the word "coxswain". Enjoy the Q&A with James...or should I say, "Skippy"!?!.

MNII: First off, it's "Davison", right? Do you bother correcting people who refer to you as James "Davidson" or do you usually just let it slide?

JD: Yes I do, it has been an issue my entire life. My suit in Star Mazda had my name misspelled on it the entire season!

MNII: You come from quite the racing family. Your grandfather won the Australian Grand Prix four times, your father raced Formula 5000, and your cousins race V8 Supercars. Did you ever feel pressured to be in this profession?

JD: Yes, my family name is prominent in Australian motorsport, much like how Andretti, Unser, Foyt is regarded here. When I did my first year of racing Formula Ford back in Australia my cousins had left a big impression on the family name so I felt I had to perform if I was going to be taken seriously. I knew I had it in me and I wanted it just as much as they did. I performed straight away which was important in gaining my father's support of my career up to this year.

MNII: Being in the U.S. so much, what do you miss most about your Australian homeland? Vegemite? The AFL? Kylie Minogue?

JD: I actually have Vegemite nearly every morning for breakfast and recently found a place that sells it here in Indy. I miss the summer beaches and catching up with my old school friends. With that said, I am very focused and determined to make it as an IndyCar driver. I don't think about what I have left back in Australia all that much. My life is primarily in Indianapolis and I intend to keep it here.

MNII: I noticed from your bio that you served as a coxswain on a championship crew team a few years ago. Could you tell us what kind of stuff does a coxswain shout to the guys with the oars? Is it similar to what a spotter yells at a driver during a race?

JD: It's not like going side by side at 200mph but it was a very good experience that taught me discipline, dedication and determination, along with waking up at 5.00am to go training! I had a very important dictator-ing role to control the eight rowers in the crew. Motivating and strategic race planning were very important to being successful. My school was like the Team Penske of school boy rowing; Big budgets, new $40,000 carbon fiber boats, Olympic gold medalist coaches. We won everything and they still dominate today.

MNII: Your team co-owner, Tony George, had a bit of a rough time with the media last week. Did you offer to give him a hug, or would that have been awkward and inappropriate?

JD: A hug was definitely in order, but I took a step back from it all. You can never be sure that you're getting the whole story from the media. Knowing Tony personally, it's difficult to see the way he is portrayed a lot of times by the media; he is a very generous, thoughtful, hardworking person who has made many tough decisions with the best interest of the sport in mind. Tony is highly important to our sport, and something like the recent rumors would have a huge impact of a lot of people's lives. This is a crucial time for open-wheel racing to rebound, and the last thing we need is stupidity that would unsettle the progress that the series has made. There has been a lot of time and investment put into the IRL, most recently with the unification of the sport, and it's going to take everyone to be united in order to recover the lost ground. I've loved IndyCar racing since I was 11 years old, and I am committed to being a part of its future.

MNII: Vision Racing recently announced their newest team co-owner is 18-year-old Lauren George. So far would you categorize her as a harsh taskmaster or a benevolent dictator?

JD: I haven't disappointed her so far, but she won't be satisfied until we are winning races. As the old saying goes "sponsors or team owners don't care where you finish unless it's first". She is competitive and definitely wants to win, however she is understanding of the fact that we are a new team and need some time to catch our stride. We have been constantly improving on the ovals with a Top-Five in Milwaukee and eagerly look forward to the string of road courses where we are going all out to win.

MNII: Some drivers have very personal relationships with their sponsors, so, umm, pardon me for asking but do you find yourself shopping frequently at Charlotte Russe?

JD: No, I don't but I do use a People's Liberation bag to carry around some things. Ultimately the two brands reflect an 18 year old girl like Lauren, and in this economy you cannot complain about who's paying the bills! The car looks good and it is my responsibility to run up front. (People’s Liberation is our primary sponsor. Charlotte Russe was only on the car for Indy & Milwaukee.)

MNII: What's the biggest difference being on a one-car team like Vision Racing as opposed to the four-car effort at Sam Schmidt Motorsports?
Focus. It makes a difference and I feel that I did suffer from this at times last year. The key ingredient to any successful team is chemistry, and I have a very good relationship my guys at Vision.

MNII: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you did some TV work for the Surfer's Paradise race last year. How did you score that gig, and is that something you'd want to do more of in the future?

JD: Yes, it was a good experience. I grew up going to the race there and got to know many of the key personal from the event. I enjoyed commentating on what I love, however at this stage I would for sure much rather star in the race. Many commentators have been former drivers, which gives them more creditability when commentating or expressing their opinion on something.

MNII: Vision Racing has one of those FIL partnership deals that allows for extra testing time, but have they let you have a crack at driving one of their IndyCars yet? If so, what did you think?

JD: As of yet I have not driven the IndyCar, however after the season I am eager to get a chance to finally drive what I have been working toward my entire career. The budget at Vision does not allow us the leisure that AGR has to do testing miles. Right now I am focused on Indy Lights and developing with the team to a race winning level.

MNII: You raced well enough to win several races last year, but your lone FIL victory came at that bizarre boat race at Mid Ohio. Did you talk about it with Jonny Reid afterward, and did you at least offer to buy him a good stiff drink?

JD: Yes, I had a number of unfortunate incidents last year where I lead the race at Indianapolis & Nashville but ended up with zero. Mid Ohio was a very difficult race. I made a mistake early on and recovered from it. I had good speed in the rain and by the white flag I had got to within a second of Jonny. I was getting excited as I felt I was strong enough to pass him then the caution came out, which meant I was locked into finishing 2nd.....well at least I thought haha. I saw him go in the pit lane which made me stumble for a second. I exited the final turn and the guy was waving the flags at me. It was a crazy way to win however I felt I deserved some luck to be on my side as my entire season up to that point was very frustrating. Seven days earlier at Nashville when I started on the pole and lead half the race, I was accidently put into the wall by Jonny when coming up to lap him. I thought it was a convenient apology, however I really wanted to win that guitar. A couple of us had a few drinks that night back Indy and joked about it.

MNII: Last question: Do you have a nickname? If you don't you can make one up, and if you don't make one up I won't be responsible for what the readers decide to call you.

JD: I have a number; Davo, JD, Jamo, Roo, Skippy.

MNII: Hmmm. James "Skippy" Davison. That does have an excellent ring to it!

(Thanks to Vision Racing for their assistance and to for all photos used.)


  1. Ryan // June 19, 2009 5:43 PM  

    Very cool Jeff. It's nice to see some other bloggers covering the FIL drivers and series. They are, after all, the future of our beloved sport.

  2. Anonymous // June 19, 2009 6:27 PM  

    Very good article and an excellent idea to do an interview each Friday with a Lights driver.
    Skippy seems like a personable kid, but am I the only one who flinched a little with the Andretti, Unser, Foyt statement.

  3. Mike R // June 19, 2009 7:37 PM  

    I guess I think I like "Roo" better than "Skippy", but have at it, Jeff.

    To Anonymous: I didn't flinch, didn't even think about it until you mentioned it. Went back and re-read it, and ya, I guess it sounds a little...what, maybe a bit arrogant/self-aggrandizing (I probably mis-spelled that).
    Anyhooo...good interview, Jeff. I'm thinking this could be a good opp for the up-and-coming ones to let us gather info to learn who they following college football before players are drafted into the NFL. Too bad it's so dependent on financial to make a run at the bigs.

  4. Sarah Fan // June 20, 2009 4:01 AM  

    I'm really looking forward to the next ones - thanks for the great idea, and great read.

  5. Megan // June 20, 2009 4:24 AM  

    My hubby went to an event that "Roo" spoke at and said the comment about Andretti et. al. doesn't sound pompous in person. I think it is one of those that needs the inflection of a voice. What did you think Jeff? He is a great kid who is excited about a future in IndyCar, which is exactly what we need! Enthusiasm!! Great idea Jeff!

  6. J E Clerk // June 20, 2009 8:49 AM  

    I'm really glad you did this interview, Jeff. It's a real coup. People like James Davison and James Hinchcliffe are just two of the open-wheel stars of the future. The FIL series' talent pool is DEEP. They're all great... Pippa, Plowey, et al., are all great drivers..

    The impossible thing about FIL this year is trying to single out one or two drivers or teams. I don't think anyone can do that without mentioning every single name involved in the FIL series, even our favorite FIL PR guy, Arni!

  7. Iannucci // June 20, 2009 8:57 AM  

    I think James was simply saying the name "Davison" is known in Australia for their family of racers, which is a claim I can't personally verify.

    Are there any Aussies in the house?

  8. Anonymous // June 20, 2009 9:18 AM  

    Good interview.

    "How do you explain Indy Lights?" is the best response to the illogic being pushed by folks, such as Oreo, that lack of disparity between cars in the ICS is somehow to blame for the recent lack of 2 and 3 wide racing (at Texas, for instance).

    No matter how similar the ICS cars have become, the Lights cars are even more so, and yet... Obviously, pack racing on big ovals is a result of parity, not disparity.

  9. redd carr // June 20, 2009 12:10 PM  

    I agree with Jeff, I just took it as Davison comes from a historically popular racing family from DownUnder.

    My question would be more about the long line of famous Foyts?

    Good to hear about Lights drivers though.

  10. J E Clerk // June 20, 2009 5:45 PM  

    Redd Carr,

    I'm sure there's a hell of a lot more famous Foyts than "Redd Carr's"