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HE'S BATTING 1.000 ON THE 500
Kim Chapin
May 29, 1978
If you are a devotee of Indy 500 lore, chances are you're aware that Gordon Johncock ate dinner at a Burger Chef the night after he won the 1973 race. And that bandleader Spike Jones sponsored a car in the 1946 classic. And that Frank Farmer finished 21st in 1930. What you probably do not know is that in 1925 Pete DePaolo took his victory repast at Rosner's Drug Store. Or that the real name of Leon Duray, who sat on the pole in 1925 and 1928, was George Stewart, though some history books have it as James Stewart. Or that in the first 500 in 1911, Art Greiner finished last after crashing on the 13th lap—an accident that snuffed out the life of his riding mechanic.
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May 29, 1978

He's Batting 1.000 On The 500

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If you are a devotee of Indy 500 lore, chances are you're aware that Gordon Johncock ate dinner at a Burger Chef the night after he won the 1973 race. And that bandleader Spike Jones sponsored a car in the 1946 classic. And that Frank Farmer finished 21st in 1930. What you probably do not know is that in 1925 Pete DePaolo took his victory repast at Rosner's Drug Store. Or that the real name of Leon Duray, who sat on the pole in 1925 and 1928, was George Stewart, though some history books have it as James Stewart. Or that in the first 500 in 1911, Art Greiner finished last after crashing on the 13th lap—an accident that snuffed out the life of his riding mechanic.

Of course, you could look these things up, but if you happened to have been anywhere within 75 miles of Indianapolis this month you didn't really have to, because Donald Davidson would gladly have told you all of the above wonderfully trivial facts about the 500, plus several thousand more. A retiring wisp of a fellow, Davidson, 35, is by day the United States Auto Club statistician. He figures race results, prepares entry forms, calculates prize moneys and co-edits the USAC yearbook. By night, at least during the month preceding the 500, Davidson dispenses his knowledge over Indianapolis radio station WIBC as the featured guest of one of Indiana's most popular deejays, Chuck Riley.

Riley's show, which runs four hours Mondays through Fridays beginning at 3 p.m., has a name—The Life of Riley, natch. The Davidson segment, aired live for 50 minutes beginning at 6:10, does not. In the eight years that Davidson has been astounding Midwestern audiences with his 500 minutiae—working without notes—he and Riley have not come up with a suitable handle.

It is equally difficult to come up with a good reason why Davidson came to acquire his vast knowledge of the 500, especially considering that he grew up in England and didn't see the race until he was 21.

A teen-ager in the late 1950s, Davidson had an English schoolboy's interest in the British racing heroes of that era—Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Mike Hawthorn and the like. Although the 500 was all but ignored by the English press at that time, Davidson had an even deeper curiosity about the strange and awesome spectacle held each May in the American heartland. "I think I was especially fascinated by the names of Indianapolis," he says. "The strange names of the cars as well as the names of the drivers."

Though he does not lay claim to a photographic memory, Davidson easily memorized the finishing positions of the cars and drivers in every 500, and then began committing to memory more arcane facts. By 1964, his head fairly stuffed with trivia, he came over to see the great American motor sports show firsthand.

Davidson arrived at the Brickyard at 4 p.m. on a Friday, and soon found himself in the Gasoline Alley garage of mechanic A. J. Watson, where for the next six hours he held court as a score of drivers walked in to challenge him on long-forgotten facts about their own Indianapolis careers and those of their absent colleagues. Davidson had them all shaking their heads in amazement.

Paul Bost? Drove the Empire State Special in 1931. Finished 31st. Harry McQuinn? He was at the wheel of the Hollywood Pay Day Special in 1940. Larry Crockett? Drove the Federal Engineering, Detroit Special in 1954, finished ninth and was named Rookie of the Year. His mechanic was named Russ Snowberger.

Davidson returned to England after the 1964 race, but came back the next year to stay. Sid Collins, the late Voice of the 500, picked his brain on the race-day radio broadcast that May, and USAC hired him on the spot.

Davidson first appeared on The Life of Riley in 1971. His loosely knit 50 minutes have gone through several format changes, but the core has remained constant: challenging questions called in by listeners hoping to catch Davidson in an error. Many try but few succeed, though sometimes an easy-sounding query such as, "What drivers have led every 500 they've entered?" or, "Who finished 11th, 27th and 11th in consecutive races?" gives him pause.

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