Davey Hamilton looking to steer USAC into next chapter
By Zach Tasker
Nampa, Idaho native Davey Hamilton has many years of racing experience, but in 2015 he is taking on a new role. The 11 time Indianapolis 500 starter was recently named executive director of USAC racing. The storied organization has long been the scene of many great races and extremely talented drivers. Hamilton, a former USAC racer himself is relishing the opportunity to take the reins of one of motor racing’s most prestigious sanctioning bodies.
“I think it is a good opportunity to work with USAC. I have been involved for a long time not only as a driver the majority of the time but also sometimes as a promoter working with USAC and an opportunity came up to work with the gang down there and to try and work on the racing side of it. There are some good people down there and there are good people running each division. We are kind of giving a release to Kevin Miller to where he can work on the commercial side of it a little bit more. Obviously sponsorship is a big part of our game and he needs to put a little more effort towards that so it has allowed me to work towards all of the Silver Crown, Midgets, Sprint cars and some of the other groups that we are going to sanction as well. I think that there is a challenge in our sport right now no matter what, getting cars, getting fans, sometimes both and getting quality events again. We have a lot of work ahead of us but I’m looking forward to it.”
One thing the United States Auto Club certainly has on its side right now is the resurgence of its premier division, the Silver Crown Series. A series that due to car and fuel changes was on the ropes just a few years ago with dwindling car counts has seen a surge in fan and participant interest with growing grids at each race last year. Many credit this to series director Andy Hillenburg’s hard work. Hamilton agrees “Andy does a great job with the Silver Crown series. He gets it, he has raced in it. He is a businessman too. He has driving schools and race tracks so he knows the business of it. So that’s also one element I believe I am able to bring to the table. I have been a driver, I have been a race team owner I have been a series owner and creator. I’ve had race tracks, my family has had one for 19 years and we sold it a few years back but then I took over Terre Haute as well so I’m able to really look at it from all angles to where I’m a fan too. Don’t forget that angle, I am a fan as well so I think that is one thing that Andy was able to bring to the table and I think that’s something I can bring to the table. One thing is you can’t make everybody happy all the time but I really feel if you really put a plan together and you look at it from all sides you can usually make the best decision and the right one. Now it’s not always going to be the popular one, but I have to look at it from all aspects no matter what that rule may be or what that change may be or it could be just something fine-tuned that they are doing now but I feel that you need to look at it from all sides to be successful.”
While the Silver Crown series is seeing an uptick in interest and the sprint car series is always genuinely healthy as USAC’s bread and butter division, the hot topic among racing fans recently has been the state of USAC Midget racing and the costs associated with it. “There are so many ways to argue it, I think they are struggling. I don’t think racing for the purses that we race for that a $55,000 midget engine is in the future. I don’t think a $30,000 midget motor would be in the future. I think to get everyone back on track again and by the way there are a lot of midgets out there I think we need to be in the $15,000 or $20,000 range for a midget engine especially for the purses we are running for. So we need to work on that too. Just like the Silver Crown, we are growing car counts; I think we are going to be really strong, I think Andy is doing a great job getting the cars to the track. I think our participants are getting back involved but now we have to get the fans back. We need to get back to 10,000 people in the grandstands when we go back to the fairgrounds races, not 2,000 people. So I need to work really strong with the promoters and try to be creative and figure out why the fans aren’t coming. Back to the midgets and not just the midgets but the HPD midgets as well there is a good program we just need to contain the costs.”
The 1997 and 1998 Verizon IndyCar Series point standings runner up wants all up and coming drivers to come through the ranks of all the USAC division’s on their ladder and use it as a springboard to the big leagues of IndyCar and NASCAR which many talent greats have down before. “I think that actively right now in NASCAR ranks there are 23 championship USAC drivers right now so we are very proud of that and we want to continue that not just in NASCAR but we would like to see it over in the IndyCar side as well. We can only do so much there but we want to continue USAC being a stepping stone the big leagues. Look at Rico (Abreu) , he could be the next superstar that has the opportunity to make it to the Daytona 500 or Indy 500 so we want to be a stepping stone and we are right across the street from the speedway so it holds a soft spot in USAC’s heart and obviously mine personally. When I came out of short tracks I went straight to IndyCar which was my vision, my goal and my direction and I fought for it. I was at a lot of IndyCar races I was going to and talking to AJ Foyt, Rick Galles, Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti and Sam Schmidt. Well today I’m at those IndyCar races and I don’t see any short track guys that are even hunting. So we need to change the perspective of that hopefully there is some opportunity to make that happen. I do think that Randy Bernard was really going into the right direction of making that happen but unfortunately he is no longer there and the vision that he had hasn’t been picked up yet but we will work on that.”
Hamilton will be one of the busiest men in motor racing this season, along with his USAC gig, he has a son racing sprint cars, he also is the driver analyst for races on the IMS Radio Network, continues to have a partnership in Kingdom Racing which will field a car in this year’s Indianapolis 500 and continues to promote his King of the Wing sprint car series, which along with the Auto Value Super Sprint Series will fall under USAC sanction this year. “It is going to be a busy year, I created the King of the Wing but I have good guys that are taking care of that program for me. There are questions to be answered and there are thoughts to be put into it but hopefully the majority of my time will be spent working on USAC programs. One thing with the radio network, I thought it would still help me to be around IndyCar guys. I think with the position I’m in I need to be talking to Mark Miles and Doug Boules and Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi and keeping those avenues open and trying to work together and not only drivers and sponsorships and things like that.”
USAC has forever been a place where legends of the sport like Dave Darland and Tracy Hines battle up and comers who are cutting their teeth before moving on to bigger and better things. If you are near a USAC race this year in any of its three premier divisions, it is well worth checking out. Davey Hamilton has a passion for racing and his vision for organization is to take it even higher as the world’s premier development league for all racing, starting with quarter midgets, and then getting into HPD midgets, followed by the national midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crown Series.