TULSA, Okla.—Hank Davis’ victory in Tuesday night’s qualifier surprised a lot of people—just not the drivers who have raced again the 19-year-old from nearby Sand Springs.
Fellow competitors from Port City Raceway, 11 miles northeast from the Chili Bowl Nationals, know not to underestimate the young gasser.
Davis just hasn’t received the same breaks or accolades as drivers such as Cannon McIntosh, Daison Pursley or Kaylee Bryson—not yet.
“Hank Davis is just a kid flying under the radar that all of the Oklahomans know, for sure,” Pursley said. “We all grew up racing together. He was the guy to beat out at Port City at one time in the restrictor classes when we were all making our way through the ranks. He was the guy. He just doesn't get to do it every year, unfortunately, like me, Cannon and Kaylee and Taylor (Reimer) get to do.
“But he's a guy that when you put in big races, he's definitely going to be the man to beat. If you put him inside of a good car, he can definitely wheel it.”
Davis is one of thousands of drivers across the country who have the personality, the looks and the talent to excel in the right situation. Fans witnessed a flash of Davis’ brilliance when he scored an upset win in Tuesday Chili Bowl Nationals preliminary.
Pursley was one of the lucky young racers to be recruited by Toyota Racing. For the last three years, he has been groomed by Keith Kunz Motorsports—the preeminent dirt racing destination for aspiring drivers. McIntosh and Bryson hit the driver development lottery as well.
McIntosh, 20, has since returned to his family team—Dave Mac-Dalby Motorsports. He is considered to be one of the favorites to bring home the Golden Driller. At 17, he was the youngest driver to win his qualifying night feature. Since then, he has won three of his last four prelims—including on Monday night.
Should McIntosh accomplish the feat, he would top Kevin Swindell as the youngest Chili Bowl Nationals feature winner. But McIntosh knows his fellow Oklahoman, Davis, will be tough come Saturday.
“Hank was always really good,” McIntosh said. “We were all pretty close, I’d say. Me and Hank were probably two of the top competitors—and always going at it against each other. At one point, maybe, we were in different classes. But for most of our childhood, we were racing against each other.
“I think I moved up a little bit before he did. When he stayed in the restricted class, he pretty much dominated. He was very good. And even when he moved up, he was one of the favorites to win at Port City every night.”
So who the hell is Hank Davis?
“Just a kid from Sand Springs,” he says. “Started racing when I was about seven-years-old at Port City with Cannon, Kaylee, she came in a little bit later. Holley Hollan and all of those people. Just moved up. Got into POWRi West in about 2017 and have been racing ever since.”
Davis posted solid results in midgets, A-Class Wing and Stock Non-Wing. The following season, Davis ran his first full season in POWRi Midgets behind the wheel of the No. 42 and added POWRi 600cc Micros to his schedule. He finished second in the 2018 standings to Kory Schudy and second in the 2019 Midget West standings behind Andrew Felker. Davis’ Chili Bowl Nationals debut came in 2020 with Dean Franklin.
Saturday will mark his fourth Chili Bowl Nationals appearance, but his first in the A Main. On Tuesday, he qualified for his third prelim feature after coming from fifth to second in Heat 4 and then winning his qualifier. Prior to Tuesday, his best results came in 2021 when he won his heat and finished eighth in the qualifying night feature driving the No. 14E for Eric Fenton.
But it wasn’t until he aligned with Matt Seymour Racing from Massachusetts that Davis really found the spotlight.
“These guys gave me a shot two years ago,” Davis said. “At first, I struggled a little bit with the car. But this year we came in with a little bit thicker notebook and made it happen.”
Pursley, who took the early lead on Tuesday night, had hoped he would be the Oklahoman to set the streak for consecutive Sooner State prelim victors. Still, he understands what the moment meant for Davis.
“Just very cool for Hank to get that win and for two Oklahoma people to go back-to-back,” Pursley said. “I wish it could have been me, of course. But if it wasn't me, I'm glad it was Hank.
“He's a guy who deserves it and has worked for absolutely everything he has. So very, very cool to see him succeed. I just wish I could have been up there racing with him.”
McIntosh was thrilled that Davis found an opportunity to display his talent—despite it coming at the expense of another Dave Mac-Dalby Motorsports midget piloted by seven-time New Zealand National Midget Car champion Michael Pickens. Davis and Pickens collided in Tuesday night’s feature when Davis came up short trying to slide the Kiwi.
“He definitely showcased his ability,” McIntosh said. “That it was him and one of our cars that got together made it a little awkward because I was definitely cheering for (Davis) all night. But that's just part of it when you have hard, close racing.”
Davis absolutely believes that luck factors into success at the Chili Bowl.
“A lot of it is Chili Bowl luck,” Davis said. “You still got to stay in position. It's still not easy by any means. But you have to have a little luck and then stay out of way of other people’s messes that you don’t need to be in. We did that the other night and it worked out really, really well.”
While many of the regular midget racers don’t want to admit that the field has opened up due to the absence of Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, Davis knows better.
“Larson usually runs on my night, so usually we feel like you're running for 3rd when those guys are here,” Davis said. “So, I honestly think it opens it up more for everyone--I don't care who you are. You have to realize that.
“There's also like about 15 between the D and the A feature from last year that aren't here. So with that being said, that's 15 spots that opened up throughout the whole D--night portion of the show, right? So I think that it just kind of opened everybody's eyes that maybe they also had a shot to make it a little bit further this year.”
Davis is looking to expand his race schedule with Seymour this season—although the team’s primary focus is pavement. Following Tuesday’s performance, there has been additional sponsorship interest for the team. And about that Chili Bowl luck? Davis drew the No. 1 spot for Saturday’s pole shuffle, guaranteeing a front-row starting spot in the A Feature.
While Davis might not have been fast-tracked as quickly as his fellow racers from Port City, things appear to be turning around.
“We’re going to run some ASCS for sure, maybe some national series,” Davis said. “These guys want me to fly out—I’m all in. I just really want to race about every weekend this year. I want to try anything and everything. I really want to step out of my comfort zone and learn new things.
“These guys prepare really good race cars. It’s just up to me to do my job.”