Don and Jo Ann Davies Recognized By Mod Hall Of Fame
By Gary Rowe
The husband and wife team of Don and Jo Ann Davies, longtime trade journalists from Feura Bush, NY, will receive the Andrew S. Fusco Award for Media Excellence at the 2018 Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Thursday, July 26, in Weedsport, NY. The annual award is presented in memory of Hall of Fame board member and legal counsel Andy Fusco, who passed away in 2015.
When he was just a lad, Don Davies would watch as stock cars heading to Brookfield Speedway passed in front of his home on Route 8. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for motorsports — especially with the Northeast Modifieds.
"Dad would bring us to Brookfield," Don recalled. "That is where I caught 'the bug.’" One driver, Freddie Sheppard, was a regular at a garage in Don’s hometown of Cassville and he found his first racing hero.
When Brookfield Speedway closed, Don and his family visited other tracks: Fonda, the old Vernon Fairgrounds, Bennett’s Field in Utica, Richfield Springs and the Fairgrounds in Morris.
After high school, Don settled on Ryder College in Lawrenceville, NJ. "My decision to go to Ryder had nothing to do with racing — and then, it had everything to do with racing," said Don, who soon discovered the school was located close to what he considered the mecca of Modified racing — Flemington, Reading, Langhorne, Nazareth, Trenton and East Windsor were all within driving distance.
Not only did he hit a home run by being close to some of the premier dirt tracks of the period, but he also met a Jersey girl who would be his partner in life.
After graduating high school in 1967, Jo Ann enrolled at Ryder where she met Don, already a junior. Don, along with three of his buddies, took Jo Ann to her first race at Flemington Speedway. Prior to this date, Jo Ann’s only exposure to motorsports was the occasional drag race at Englishtown. Apparently, Jo Ann didn’t immediately feel the same passion for the sport that Don had: She fell asleep at Flemington that day!
Though she was not initially a fan, Don’s interest and the spirited patter of legendary announcer Bill Singer soon found her rooting for Bobby Malzahn, who lived near her Keyport, NJ, home.
After graduating from Ryder in 1968, Don accepted an opportunity with an Albany accounting firm — partly to feed his passion for the sport by attending race tracks in the Capital District. Don and Jo Ann married in 1969, and Jo Ann continued her education at SUNY Albany.
Attending the races was not just a passing fancy; it became a way of life for the Davieses. If there was a race in the area, they were there. If there was a race outside the area, they were there. Forging new friendships with those in the stands around them, true race fans that everyone knew. If there were cars on a track, Don and Jo Ann were there.
There was never a plan or desire to become racing journalists. But in 1972, Don and Jo Ann were eating at a diner before attending the races at Fonda when former asphalt driver George Prendergast mentioned that he was involved in a publication called Speedway Scene. George asked if they would be interested in writing a report on a show they had already planned to attend. That was the start of their writing endeavors. "New York Modifieds" became the name of their column in the New England-based Speedway Scene.
For the past 46 years Don and Jo Ann have covered the Northeast dirt Modified arena, first for Speedway Scene and, beginning in 1986, for Area Auto Racing News.
"Our premise from Day One was that we wanted to relay to readers the kinds of things that we would have wanted to know if we were not at the event," Don bottom-lined. "In doing so, it’s given us an entirely different perspective on the racing and an appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes."
Their weekly column does not provide results per se, but rather race insights, first-person commentary, rules updates, and little-known backstories to the major headlines. They are race fans, first and foremost, who want to share their knowledge and excitement with others.
Don walks the pit area non-stop, knowing and talking to everyone in both the Modified and support classes, while Jo Ann covers things from an administrative perspective and aids a number of tracks with their media relations and sign-in operations.
Former Brewerton and Fulton promoters Harvey and Joan Fink are responsible for recruiting Jo Ann to help with VIP and media credentials at the local tracks and sanctioning bodies. Harvey saw the same qualities in both his wife Joan and Jo Ann — two take-charge, no-nonsense women, unafraid to get the job done. Jo Ann has since assisted SCCA, as well as the Modified tracks.
True fans who have never missed a Super DIRT Week, Don and Jo Ann have attended every World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte and have missed only one Eastern States Weekend at Middletown since 1967. They cover 75-80 events throughout the year, traveling from Florida to the Canadian provinces. But no matter where they go, their hearts remain close to home: every Friday night you will find them at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
The couple has been able to establish trust and confidence with everyone they talk to simply because they abide by a set of golden rules: If it’s off the record, it stays off the record. They also practice two time-honored virtues: honesty and integrity. They believe if you are honest with people, they will be honest with you.
Racing has given Don and Jo Ann a singular opportunity to meet a wide variety of people from across the region — drivers, owners, promoters, officials and fans — and establish many closely-held friendships.
The Davieses are thrilled to receive the 2018 Andrew S. Fusco Award for Excellence in Media, as they were close friends with Andy during his lifetime.
"We were good friends with Andy, going back to his days at Albany Law School," Don recounted. "Before that, we knew him as a teenager at Fonda, back when we weren’t much older. But our relationship with Andy encompassed far more than just the racing itself."