INDYCAR’s newly appointed chief steward readily admits he has some butterflies about the season opener this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla.
While the motorsport and auto industry veteran knows he's put himself squarely in everyone's sights by taking the reins at Verizon IndyCar Series race control, a personal need to deliver good decisions is what has Dan Davis anxious about his first weekend in the big chair at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“To say I wasn't apprehensive would be incorrect because there is that concern about doing a great job to start with, and the unknown, and that sort of thing,” Davis said.
“Sure there will be pressure and we will probably make mistakes along the way – hopefully not many, none would be great – but I am just looking forward to the challenge.”
Davis plans to lean on the two other stewards – two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk and former Indy car driver Max Papis – both with ample experience behind the wheel who bring the driver perspective to the officials’ table. Luyendyk raced Indy cars for two decades, while Papis raced in Formula One, Indy cars, NASCAR and sports cars in his career.
The trio was named Feb. 24 by INDYCAR to serve as the competition officiating crew at all Verizon IndyCar Series races for 2016. If any of the stewards or race director Brian Barnhart sees what he believes to be an on-track infraction, he can call for a stewards review. At that point, the three stewards review all data available to them in race control and determine by majority vote if it was an infraction. If so, the stewards then decide on the appropriate penalty based on guidelines from the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook.
“There's a team of three of us and there are two accomplished drivers, and so I've got those two who are really going to be the experts at seeing what is happening on track and observing and probably knowing what's in the drivers' minds when things happen,” Davis said.
“I bring a different view and different thoughts and, as long as I don't try to overpower two high-caliber drivers' opinions, then we'll be fine. If I try to do that, it will be a shame and it would be wrong.”
No matter how much racing experience there is in race control, the trio knows it will be under the microscope. Papis said fans can feel confident that the stewards will have the best interests of the series at heart.
“Are we going to make everything right all the time? No, because there is only one guy that makes everything right, and He belongs up in the sky with my dad,” Papis said.
“Everybody here is a human being but I can promise you guys, everything that I will do, everything we will do, will be for the love of the sport and nothing else.”
The closest Davis has been to professional driving was several stints at racing schools and performance driving of race and production cars that was a perk of being an automotive executive. While he may have never driven a race car in anger, it's pretty much the only role he hasn't played in the industry.
The 66-year-old has a resume that would make most gear heads jealous after joining General Motors at 18. Not only does he have almost three decades experience shaping production cars for GM and Ford, but Davis also spent the final 14 years of his career running Ford's North American racing program. That job saw him gets his hands into drag racing, Formula One, NASCAR, Indy car, rallying and sprint cars.
While some initial reaction to Davis' appointment may have been lukewarm because of his lack of racing and officiating experience, he takes a more positive view of the road ahead.
“At some point, I think if you want to have some personal growth you need to try new things and challenge yourself,” said Davis. “Sometimes you need something besides a driver perspective or you need someone to question or push or probe and I think that's me. My role is going to be team leader and to push and probe: 'Why do you think that' and 'what about that' and those kinds of things.”
Davis said much of his career revolved around using the same skills to find solutions to design and technological challenges he faced while guiding some of Ford’s high-profile programs. And he found success doing it.
For example, Davis was so highly regarded inside Ford that the manufacturer tapped him to lead its F1 efforts with Benetton, a partnership that ultimately netted two world championships with legend Michael Schumacher.
While he enjoys racing and grew to be a huge fan, Davis’ first love remains technology, especially adapting new discoveries to road cars. With that role in his rear view mirror after he retired from Ford in 2008, Davis looked to get back into racing on a part-time basis – a commitment he defines as 30 hours per week – and he jumped at the chance when INDYCAR came knocking with the chief steward position.
“I didn't wake up one day and decide I wanted to be chief steward,” he said. “I was looking for an opportunity and nothing really came along for a number of years and then this did and it was like, 'Well, I can get involved, I really enjoy open-wheel racing, and this gets me into the community and working with people I know and respect.’ It just so happens that it's at the chief steward position and that's fine with me.”
Davis has a simple message for Verizon IndyCar Series fans who will keeping a close eye on race control in 2016.
“We are a professional crew of three individuals that care about the sport and want to do the best possible job of officiating and make it enjoyable for the participants and the fans,” Davis said. “And we are going to do our best to get it done.”