The Keeper of the Facts

Photo: Donald Davidson sitting in the Belond Exhaust Special. Photo by Greg Griiffo, Indy Star

If each fact about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in Donald Davidson’s head were a physical object, the building needed to store them all would dwarf the track a hundredfold.

Davidson announced his retirement from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday, effective December 31, ending a 65 year career as statistician, historian, media commentator, and author. His popular May show, Talk of Gasoline Alley, was a staple of May evenings for nearly 50 years. Fans tuned in to glean nuggets of history about the 500, the Speedway, and the people involved. I hope this show finds a way to continue. It has sadly been reduced to just one week from its former month long run, making each night that more special.

Some personal remembrances:

I was at the track the first day that Davidson arrived. It was Bump Day, 1964. During the usual lull in the middle of the afternoon, one of the track announcers, I believe it was Jim Phillipei, announced a special guest, “a young man from England with some knowledge about the speedway,” I believe he said. He asked Donald some questions which he handled easily. Henry Banks joined the pair, and Donald proceeded to run through Banks’s career in the Indianapolis 500. Davidson didn’t pause as he ran through each year- car, starting position, finishing position, laps completed. Banks accepted the information as correct, saying he couldn’t remember every race.

In the fall of 2012 I had the opportunity to take Davidson’s class on the history of the Indianapolis 500. Four weekly 3 hour sessions, beginning with Carl Fisher through the present day. The sessions ran long, but I didn’t mind. Several people in the class had attended it previously. It was one of the last of these classes he taught. He had some fascinating film of the early days of the track, as well as many incredible stories.

I always enjoyed seeing him on one of my trips to the Speedway Museum, even if it was just to say hello. Davidson and I have been at the track for nearly the same number of years.

Davidson’s retirement did not come on suddenly. This has been planned for awhile. There is someone who will take his position as historian. This person is not replacing Donald as much as carrying on his work. May evenings won’t be the same without Donald adding to my learning about the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Thank you, Donald, for everything .