Donald Davidson has given speeches and conducted question-and-answer sessions about the history of the Indianapolis 500 to enthralled fans across Indiana for decades.
That popular program saw Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) Historian Davidson talk in most of the counties in the state of Indiana in 2016 as part of the buildup to the historical 100th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in May last year. It’s almost a traveling road show version of his beloved, longtime radio show during the Month of May, “The Talk of Gasoline Alley.”
But this late winter and spring, Davidson is driving the speaking tour past the border of The Hoosier State.
Davidson, believed to be the only full-time historian at a racetrack in the world, is participating in nearly 50 speaking engagements to promote the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28 at IMS. The program remains centered in Indiana, but additional dates are scheduled in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin through May and beyond.
“I love doing the talks,” Davidson said. “It’s so rewarding because the people are so neat. They’ve been very, very well received.”
Every presentation by Davidson is different, depending on the venue and the audience. He can dig more deeply into the lore and traditions of the Indianapolis 500 when speaking to racing-oriented groups, while he provides a more basic, “101” history of the race when speaking to general audiences.
Sometimes Davidson is the only speaker, with plenty of time to expound on Indianapolis 500 history. Other times he is one of many speakers on the program, with limited time. Some presentations are open to the public, while others are for private groups.
Davidson is accompanied to the speaking dates by friend and former Greencastle, Indiana, Mayor Mike Harmless, who has spearheaded the tours and makes arrangements with venues.
It’s never dull and always a thrill for Davidson, a respected, revered institution of the race and facility with fans worldwide.
“Everywhere we go we’ve been warmly received,” Davidson said. “There are always people nodding heads. They have their own stories, and they want to come up and share with you.”
Hosts for the tour include auto racing fan clubs, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, Chambers of Commerce, local racetracks, libraries, museums and local governments.
Davidson remains thrilled and grateful for the crowds that attend the presentations in Indiana and neighboring states. But he’s particularly impressed by the zeal for the Indianapolis 500 and IMS shown by one group.
“What has been really neat to me are the number of mayors that are genuine fans,” Davidson said. “That’s really been amazing. They come up and say, ‘I used to listen to the race with my dad, etc.’”
Fans can learn about Davidson’s presentations open to the public by following the IMS Twitter feed, @IMS.