Have you ever had someone you met a long time ago, never to see them again for more than 25 years? The only connection you have is to have read about him in newspapers, magazines and seen him on TV. This story is about me and Davey Hamilton.
Back in 1987 I started taking photos of supermodifieds here in the Northwest. That is how and where I met Davey, a shaggy blond haired kid in an offset supermodified at the Portland Speedway. At first introduction it was clear that we had a lot in common and got along well. Every track I saw him at he always had a smile.
I followed Davey’s career around different tracks in the Northwest and California. One time a few years later I was working as a volunteer at the Portland 200 Indy car race at Portland International Raceway. The race weekend was always The Open Wheel Spectacular at the Portland Speedway on Saturday night and the Portland 200 on Sunday.
Davey had developed into one of the top open wheel drivers in the Northwest. At the race at the speedway Davey was wanting to meet some of the Indy car owners. Early Sunday morning Davey and I went to the raceway and to the pit/paddock area where he introduced himself to the Hemelgarn Racing Team and to A. J. Foyt. And as they say—the rest is history.
Before we leave the world of supermodifieds here is a little information why Davey is a hero in my eyes. Several years of going to different race tracks in the Northwest, I would take my son, Tim, to the races with me. Every time we would see Davey he would shake Tim’s hand, call him by name and tell him to have a good time. One of the top racers knowing Tim’s name and talking to him is why he is a hero to me. He paid attention to everyone, even young fans.
You have to start somewhere. Davey’s first race car a long time ago was a home built roadster with a 230 cubic inch, 6 cylinder and a 1 barrel carb. He raced at Firebird Speedway in Idaho. From that he went to the powerful offset supermodifieds. Davey’s favorite super was the Trigueiro Motorsports Super. With that car and crew he won 1987, 1988, and 1989’s Northwest Supermodified Racing Association Driver’s Championship. Also, he won the Western States Supermodified Racing Association Championship in 1994 as well as the Copper Classic at Phoenix International Raceway at least twice in the supermodified division.
On to bigger and better things- open wheel racing, Indy lights, CART Indy car, Indy Racing League and the Indianapolis 500. In order to have the opportunity to try out for the 500 you have to pay. In Davey’s case he traded the homebuilt race car his dad, Kenny Hamilton had used in his attempt to qualify for the 500. In 1982 Kenny’s car, the Eagle Aircraft Special tried but did not make the 500. The unique car caught the eye of Ron Hemelgarn. Ron wanted the car for his museum, The car was traded to give Davey a tryout for the 500 in 1991.
Now for some statistics, Davy raced Indy cars 1991 to 2001 and then 2007 to 2011, though he did not win a race in 56 races he finished second in points in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Davey did race for several different teams throughout this time.
Then came the accident, a wreck involving three other drivers including Davey. He slammed into the retaining wall at the Texas Motor Speedway, crushing both legs and feet. After 23 operations and a long recovery, Davey’s desire to race again at the 500 came true in 2007 through 2011.
Then came retirement, he worked as a radio broadcaster and partnered with several racing associations. He became a race car team owner in Indy cars, USAC sprint cars, King of Wings sprint cars. He was also racing Stadium Super Trucks and back to racing supermodifieds at Oswego Speedway in New York.
With the Indy cars coming back to Portland, I thought I could find Davey, knowing that he has worked for several Indy teams. I put together a photo album of Davey and all the supers he drove throughout the years in the Northwest. Well, he was not in Portland that weekend. He was racing a super at Oswego Speedway.
Going to the Indy 500 this year, I was hoping to see him and I did find him, working for Harding Steinbrenner Racing with car number 88, driver Colron Herta. Davey’s job is a coordinator and advisor using all his knowledge to make the car go faster. Davey was very busy, after all it was the Indy 500.
Davey asked if I could meet him at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. As a car owner he had a USAC pavement sprint car racing there. I did meet up with him and gave him the photo album. We talked about the old days and what the future holds. He says his legs feel great, and as far as the future, he plans to stay involved in racing, Indy cars, team ownership and driving.
Whenever I interview anyone I always ask, “What was what was the first car you drove on the road?” This is where Davey and I have something in common . We both drove our mother’s cars, his mom’s a 1971 Torino and mine a 1962 Galaxie. Also in common we both had minor incidents. Davey ran into the garage door and I went into a shallow ditch. So even heroes are human!