As we all know Saturday Ronnie Davis was qualifying his Kasse Powered ’63 Corvette in PDRA Top Sportsman. The car took off, hit the wheelie bars, picked up the left front, chartered the tires, and veered to the left side of the groove where he was able to correct it and make a full pass. Let’s think about that. Before he crashed. Before Ian Toucher was in the way of a 2,000+ lb missile. How many of us have that skill set? How many of us have made over 5,000 runs in a Top Sportsman car? The answer is only a few. It takes a lot of seat time, a lot of faith in your abilities as a driver, and two gigantic brass balls to collect that car in a run a lot of us would have aborted as soon as it made that move. But that’s who Ronnie Davis was. You didn’t need to be his best friend to know that. All you had to do was pay attention to what he did.
Ronnie Davis is the grandfather to Top Sportsman. He was around from the inception of the class. I mean he’s “The King” literally. Let’s put some things into perspective. This wasn’t a tragedy. Ronnie Davis didn’t go to get his morning paper and get hit by a stray bullet in a drive by. Ronnie Davis didn’t get run over crossing the street by a city bus. Ronnie Davis didn’t twiddle his thumbs for 80 years and get pancreatic cancer, then pass away after three years of chemotherapy. Those are tragedies. Now what happened was an accident. No doubt. But Ronnie Davis knew what could happen at any given moment in that race car. Heck it happened more so 20-30 years ago when Top Sportsman was invented. Ronnie Davis will be a legend in the drag racing community. Forever. But for everyone that’s creating a big hubbub about how “we need to slow these cars down”, and “there’s not enough safety in these cars” I’m going to set some things straight for you.
Nobody kidnapped Ronnie from his business, took him to the track, stuffed him in that car then said “Hang on mother f***er” and sent him down the track. Ronnie built that car for NHRA and PDRA Top Sportsman. He had guys with him helping him try to win the race that weekend. There were hours upon hours upon hours of assembly, testing, tuning, and testing some more to make that car what it is. And the fact is a lot of us do that. Whether we have a 7.20 Malibu Wagon we bracket race, or a three second twin turbo Pro Mod we all are doing the same basic thing. We’re saying that we agree to risk our lives that we can force this car to the finish line, turn the winlight on anyway we can, for only a little bit of money, a little bit of fame, and our shot at everyone in the drag racing community knowing us forever. Now that being said if you are not aware of the consequences of this life we live then allow me to make you aware. You can die from drag racing. You can kill someone else in drag racing. You can kill an eight year old boy watching in the stand while drag racing. How do I know this? Because it’s happened. A lot of folks don’t know this but while Dodge was banned from NASCAR Richard Petty had a short stint in drag racing. Why’d it end? Because he ran into a crowd and killed some folks including a lil kid. It’s sad, yes. But it ain’t tragic. That lil boy was at a race track that didn’t have a wall. Richard lost control of his car and then some awful things happened. The people there knew there wasn’t a wall there. Nobody made them go to the track. Nobody made Richard go down the track. Just like nobody made Ronnie go down the track last weekend. Whether it was a junk track, windy, hot, cold, snowing, raining… Whatever. Ronnie knew of the conditions, got in the car and went to make a run.
Now as for what actually killed Ronnie, I don’t know. There’s a million things in a race car that can kill you. Steering column through the chest, head & neck restraint failed, seatbelts failed, seat failed, nitrous bottle came loose and cracked his skull… Whatever it was I don’t know. I doubt we’ll ever know just because for whatever reason people decide to not talk about it. Maybe it’s threat of lawsuits and PDRA or Rockingham being shut down (which is absolutely f***ing stupid if I may add). But here’s what I think should be done:
These cars are getting faster. That’s obvious. So we need to find out what happened to Ronnie. And get guys like Jerry Bickel, Jerry Haas, Tim McCamis, Simpson, Impact, and Stroud design ways to prevent it from happening again. The big thing that everyone sees and recognize is Ronnie’s car spun around and took flight. Personally that’s what I think put him in the spot that killed him. In that circumstance if he stays on the race track I think he lives. So to fix the car from taking flight and going over the wall it’s really simple. Going back to NASCAR go look at the roof flaps. It keeps the cars on the race track. And the work AMAZINGLY WELL. That’s the only way I know of right now to keep the cars on the ground if you get spun around and it’s a start.
So to wrap this up I first want to extend our condolences from everyone here at DragCoverage to Ronnie’s friends and family. The next thing is that I don’t think everyone needs a HANS device or roof flaps on your car. If you want to run Top Fuel in flip flops, camo shorts, a Golds Gym t-shirt and your Aviators… Go for it! I won’t stop ya. But if you think you need somethings to help keep you safe incase something goes wrong I would encourage you and/or your chassis builder to start a conversation. It’s a sad time in drag racing and I hope everyone understands that this stuff is dangerous (as if you didn’t already know). We’ll all miss ya Ronnie!
Till next time, Shabs