Despite challenging rookie outing, James Davison says he'll be back at Chili Bowl

TULSA, Okla.—James Davison was hoping for a little bit more out of his Chili Bowl Nationals’ debut this week.

The 33-year-old Australian was battling for a transfer spot in the M Feature when he was punted onto the berm. 

Despite finishing ninth—and retiring from competition before noon—the rookie took the outing in the 33J Team Ripper midget in stride.

“It was just a massive learning experience for me and Santino (Ferrucci),” Davison said. “We had never driven a midget before or even raced on dirt prior to getting here. So with two minutes of practice prior to us going racing, it’s really tough for us.

“It’s completely backward to everything we’ve learned. I just did my best with what absolute limited track time that we had. It was looking like I had a shot to progress to another race. For me, it’s not so much progressing up the alphabet, it’s getting more laps.

“Obviously, you progress to the next race. That’s what I was really excited for—to do more laps and get more experience. It’s a bummer that I got hit from behind, but that’s the Chili Bowl, right? Everyone wants to get in there and race as high as they can.”

Ferrucci didn’t fare much better. Although he rolled off in the K Feature in fourth and raced up to third, he drifted back to sixth in the closing laps of the 10-lap contest and was passed by Eddie Tafoya Jr. for the final transfer spot at the line.

Davison comes from a road racing and sports car background. While he raced Silver Crown cars on pavement, dirt is a whole different animal. Still, Davison prepped as best he could prior to his first laps at Tulsa Expo Raceway. He studied film and spoke to three-time Chili Bowl victor Christopher Bell, whom Davison teamed with at Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2018 Road America race. 

“He told me a few things, why his line was changing throughout the race and so on,” Davison said. “But watching it is one thing, doing it is quite another. It’s so much different and harder executing and just doing it when it’s crunch time in the race. You can’t afford to spin it or drive it too hard and slide out of the groove and lose positions when you’re working to try and go faster and get more performance. It’s a really big Catch-22. That’s the big challenge.

“It’s a huge learning experience. I would really like to get good at this. So I’ll definitely be back at a few races this year. And I think by this time next year, I’ll be far better prepared. With my own personal competitive spirit, I’m disappointed. For sure, I am. There were never many expectations, obviously, for my first time racing on dirt. But we all want to do well, and when you don’t get much of a result, you can’t be too thrilled.”

Still, Davison likes a challenge. After five Indy 500 starts—and a career-best result of 12th last year—Davison will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 next month with Byrd Racing and Oil Fire Whiskey.

“It’s coming together,” Davison said. “Should expect to see an entry for us in the Daytona 500. We’ll have to race our way in being a non-charter. But obviously it’s a pretty fantastic opportunity to have that. To drive in the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 in the same year would be pretty amazing thing to achieve with all things going to plan.

“I’d still love to race at LeMans and Monaco—one way or another—obviously, it won’t be in Formula 1. But I’m pretty content with what I have here in the U.S. This is where I focus my energies and my career. But for now, that’s all I’m focussed on.”

Davison has four NASCAR Xfinity Series starts on road courses with a career-best finish of fourth at Mid-Ohio. With Indianapolis Motors Speedway announcing earlier this week that the NXS race will be run on the Grand Prix Course, is the Indiana 250 something Davison would entertain?

“Absolutely,” Davison said. “I’ve done three races with Joe Gibbs on the road courses, ran at the front and won stage races. But unless you can drive for one of those top teams, it’s really difficult to see myself doing it.

“There’s a huge disparity in equipment outside of the top 12—over and above any race series I have ever been in. You need to make a smart decision to not put yourself in a challenging position where as hard as you drive, you’re running 15th to 20th. Unless there’s an opportunity there to rejoin a team like Joe Gibbs, I’m not sure I’ll be competing in the road course at the Brickyard.”

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