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A Meticulous Mastermind: Car Chief Tim Davis

By Ainsley Jacobs

Photos by FSC

Behind every successful racer is a successful team that works tirelessly to ensure that no details are overlooked and everything is in its place. And, behind every successful team is a strong leader­­­—a crew chief whose heroics often go overlooked, but are ultimately essential to glory.

Tim Davis, 38, perhaps best known for his work keeping “Big Daddy” DeWayne Mills and his infamous ’68 Camaro on the straight and narrow, didn’t get to where he is today by accident. Davis, who resides in Oklahoma, has earned his reputation for being at the top of the crew chief game through hard work, a keen eye for details, a meticulous approach to the team’s maintenance program, and many long hours in the shop.

Like many others, Davis was indoctrinated into the sport of drag racing while he was in high school.

“We had a midnight drag thing we would go to every Saturday,” he recalled of the good ol’days. Davis himself built a 408ci small block-powered Pontiac Sunbird on nitrous that he raced and ran 9s with.

From there, he enjoyed a small collection of other cars over the years, each one quicker than the last. Davis also ran in the Real Street class of the local MAKO Outlaw Racing Series around 2000-2007, and got a good handle on understanding what it takes to be competitive both on and off the track, from behind the wheel to behind the scenes.

“I never had enough money to pay someone, so I had to build my own engines or paint my own stuff. They talk about alcoholics having addictions, but they should really have drag racers anonymous!” joked Davis, whose hard-learned skills helped him to become a Jack of all trades.

To help round out his résumé of already impressive mechanical skills, Davis also spent several years working on heavy equipment, is small-engine certified, and holds an aviation airframe and powerplant (A&P) license. Each gives him an advantage, as he has more tools in his problem-solving arsenal than a standard mechanic.

Over the years, Davis met up with Robert Skiles and the two collaborated on a few projects. Through his work with Skiles, Davis also met fellow Oklahoma-based racer, DeWayne Mills.

“DeWayne would race locally, I had a new car built and referred DeWayne to Robert, and he did, and the car we now have actually originally started off as a Skiles build,” shared Davis of the men’s longstanding history.

Eventually, around 2008, Davis went off to work with Mills as his crew chief and right-hand man. “I parked my car and found out I liked working on someone else’s car. I was actually able to have a paycheck and it was nice not blowing every dollar I got to find a new fancy race part to buy,” laughed Davis.

With now nearly a decade of teamwork between them, Davis and Mills have made their mark in drag racing history through their joint efforts and collaboration. Davis takes his role incredibly seriously, and focuses a tremendous amount of his energy and efforts into crisis-avoidance.

“To have an aborted run due to a maintenance issue or because something wasn’t tight, well, that’s my biggest concern,” he added.

On a day-to-day basis, Davis can be found in the shop running the maintenance program for Mills.

“The radial-tire Camaro takes a lot of work. We’ll get back from a race, take the motor apart, check the bearings and rods, look at pistons, take the transmission out, clean the torque converter… it’s really just gobs and gobs of work. And this PLR Hemi engine shakes more than the previous 481X, so we have to check all the bolts that might have come loose and want to fall off for the next race,” elaborated Davis, who goes over the car with a careful eye after each event.

It’s a lot of work between races, but Davis knows that the time he spends working on the car away from the track prevents more serious issues from popping up during competition or other crucial moments. Prior planning prevents poor performance, and no one sticks to that mantra more than Davis.

At the track itself, Davis is usually one of the first ones awake and working. He hits the ground running, tries to find any potential headaches before they become reality, and lays out a plan of attack with tuner Jamie Miller.

“We don’t want to get out run. We either spin or win, and we put in everything we think it can possibly take without blowing the tires off,” said Davis, who knows the task can sometimes be an impossible one, but sees the value in going all out when sometimes a race is won or lost by mere thousandths of a second.

“If I find something wrong after a run, I want to fix it right then. I don’t want to wait until morning because you never know how big the issue will be,” he stated, preferring not to procrastinate. He keeps himself purely focused on the task at hand—getting Mills down the track as quickly (and as safely) as possible. He’s all business, and treats his role with respect, determination, and a strong awareness of responsibility.

“A lot of what I do between rounds or between races, the things I check, it’s all stuff I’ve learned to look at because they’ve bit me before.”

One example that Davis remembers in particular was one nobody ever expected.

“The little computer plug that screws into your panel and does the switches, well, the vibrations can make it fall off. Now, we put a zip tie around it or check it to make sure it’s tight,” he shared. It’s the emphasis on all the little pieces coming together with nothing overlooked that has really helped Davis stand out as one of the most highly respected crew chiefs in the business. “It’s amazing to look back at all the things we’ve done and tore up and learned from. But that’s part of this sport, and why it’s fast… you find out what works, and what doesn’t.

His impeccable reputation has served him well, and, as a result, Davis has had the opportunity to work overseas with both the Q80 Racing Team as well as with EKanoo Racing.

“When I first got the offer to go to Bahrain, I was at Donald Long’s race. My wife overnighted me my passport, and they booked a flight for us Monday out of Georgia,” recalled Davis of the last-minute golden opportunity. “I have found a niche. I never imagined as a teenager that I could make a living working on racecars.”

His wife, Brandy, has always been supportive of Davis’s career and his goals. She never complains about him being gone for extended periods of time, and he’s incredibly grateful to have such an understanding spouse.

“To me, this is a dream job, and her encouragement means the world. It takes a ton of work and lot of hours, but it makes me happy. I’m a working guy; this isn’t about becoming filthy rich. I just want to get dirty and work on race cars,” said the self-motivated man.

It’s a full-time gig for Davis to keep Mills’s Camaro running at its peak, as well as Mills’ daughter, Kallee’s, matching Street Outlaw Camaro. Now, with a third “top secret” car in the works, along with Davis’s proven success over the years, it’s safe to say his position as crew chief with the Mills team is secure for the long-term.

Ainsley Jacobs
P.TEN Marketing's Ainsley Jacobs is a freelance motorsports marketing professional with extensive experience in marketing and communications, website development, social media management, photography, journalism, and more.