News & Multimedia

No. 5: Donald Davidson Retires

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2020 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

If you’ve been a fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indianapolis 500 since the mid-1960s, there have been a few constants.

The Wing and Wheel logo. The Yard of Bricks. The 2.5-mile oval. And Donald Davidson.

Davidson has been an institution of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since he first came to America from his native England in May 1964 to make a pilgrimage to the race and track he revered. Davidson wowed fans, drivers and officials that year with his almost photographic recall of Indy 500 starting lineups, results, driver careers and more.

He went home to England that year, returned to Indianapolis in 1965 and has been here ever since. Over the last 55 years, Davidson has become one of the most beloved figures in Speedway history, sharing his unparalleled knowledge of the Indy 500 with millions of fans through his writing, public speaking and media appearances, including the popular “Talk of Gasoline Alley” radio show that aired from 1970-2020.

But it was more than his incredible mind that has endeared Davidson to legions of fans. His kind, genial nature also made him one of the most approachable figures in the storied history of the race, as he always had time for one more question, one more phone call, one more picture or one more autograph. He remained a gentleman’s gentleman despite giving constantly of his time and mental treasure for more than 50 years.

So, when Davidson announced Dec. 7 that he was retiring as IMS historian at the end of 2020, the news was met with tremendous appreciation and gratitude from all corners of the globe. The man who had given so much of himself to race fans around this big blue marble called Earth had earned the right to kick back and downshift a bit, working on projects of his choosing and at his pace.

Emails, phone calls and tributes on social media poured in for the self-effacing Davidson. Many of the messages included anecdotes from fans who discovered Davidson’s unique blend of kindness and knowledge through interactions with him.

As the tributes poured in, then a question arose: Who can replace Donald Davidson? The answer to that question is simple. No one.

Davidson is a unique gem. The racing gods broke the mold when they gave us Donald Davidson.

Thankfully, Davidson has no plans to disappear during his retirement. He still will visit the track during May and other events. It’s a pretty safe bet that Davidson never will need to buy a ticket to get into IMS, and fans still will flock to him when they see him at the track.

That’s a measure of the man, who still to this day is so grateful and pleased when fans recognize and greet him both at the track and around Indianapolis.

But the truth is, the pleasure has been ours, too, over the last 55 years. Thank you, Donald.

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