Davis, Preslar Hope to Have Winning Combination for No. 42 Car at Lee Fields Memorial
By Chuck Corder
The No. 42 holds a special significance in sports.
Jackie Robinson wore that number on the back of his Brooklyn Dodgers jersey when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball more than a half century ago.
Closer to home, within the tight community that is Gulf Coast short-track racing, No. 42 holds a unique place in the heart of drivers and fans alike.
For nearly 40 years, it has become synonymous with the Preslar brothers, forever stalwarts in open-wheel Modifieds before making the leap to late models.
These days, Steven Davis drives the sleek No. 42 for the Preslars, Tommy and his brother “Flattop.”
It has been a match made in racing heaven for the last four years, and the team hopes their ultimate reward will come Saturday during the Lee Fields Memorial 100 at Mobile International Speedway.
“I love ’im like a son,” Tommy Preslar said of Davis. “It’s been great relationship. He’s a pretty good ‘shoe.’ If I can give him a car that he can drive, he’ll put it up front.
“We never have to worry with a driver like Steven because he’ll get everything he can out of that car. That’s a great thing not to have to worry about at the racetrack.”
Racecars have always been the 28-year-old Davis’ wheelhouse. Driving since his teenage years, Davis’ talent superseded whatever vehicle rattled underneath him.
Under the guiding eyes and hands of his father, Mark Davis, young Steven wasted little time in leaving burn outs on asphalt ovals from Mobile to Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola and across Alabama’s legendary short tracks.
For five consecutive years, beginning when he was 16, Steven Davis hoisted track championships at either Mobile or Pensacola in classes spanning from the current Sportsman division to Super Stocks to Modifieds to finally both Pro and Super Late Models.
“We had good people,” a humble Davis said. “Daddy, No. 1. He taught me a bunch. To accomplish all that we did, that was pretty good. It says a lot about my daddy.”
The bond between fathers and sons can never be overstated. But Mark and Steven Davis shared a special closeness that was adjusted and welded together thanks to years inside their shop.
From shocks to suspensions, those Davis boys carefully molded the central nervous system of each car Steven wheeled into Victory Lane.
Before pouring every ounce of his knowledge and expertise into Steven’s rides, Mark Davis had a master’s touch himself, win 30-something features one year.
The last race he ever won was the Super Stocks Snowball Derby at Five Flags. Steven was just barely driving street cars then and soon Mark was imparting all of his wisdom on stock cars to his heir apparent.
“It was wonderful,” Steven Davis said. “We spent many an hour in the shop working as family, as a team. He kept me outta a bunch of trouble. I didn’t wanna do anything but work on racecars. That’s all I knew.
“Then, it became almost like a dream. We won four races in a row on year. It was unbelievable to do those kinds of things.”
Just as the dream was throttling into another gear, Davis’ blossoming career came to a screeching halt because of a family nightmare.
His mother, Connie, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Seemingly overnight, Steven Davis quickly matured from a bulletproof 20 year old without a care in the world to an adult preparing for all of the heartache life throws at you.
Time was precious. Family became the ultimate priority and racing was something in his rearview mirror.
“Mama got sick, I had a (little girl) at the time,” recalled Davis, who with wife Jessica has a 5-year-old daughter Tinsley and a 6-month-old newborn boy Carson. “Everything slowed down.
I saw how spending time with family was a lot more important. You can race any day, but family — it means so much.”
With that simple, yet sometimes incomprehensible grasp on life firmly in his hands, occupying the spot where a steering wheel formerly was, Davis sold everything from his hauler to scrap parts.
“It sucked,” he admits now.
Davis got a job as a mechanic at the Shell Yellowhammer Plant in Coden.
He maintained a limited racing schedule, and when his mother’s health improved — she is now cancer free — Davis couldn’t deny his racing withdrawals any longer.
As fate would have it, the Preslar Brothers needed a fix in their revered No. 42.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t too sure he’d wanna mess with us or not,” Tommy Preslar said. “We asked and he said, ‘Hell yeah! I know the equipment who’ve got. I’d love to come drive for you.’ He was looking for somebody, and we were looking for somebody.”
It has been racing kismet since.
“Tommy and them took me in and accepted me and treat me like one of their children,” said Davis, who now works offshore on Shell’s Brutus platform, 160 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
“They trust me. They listen to what I have to say and we work together.”
That was never more apparent than last Friday night in Pensacola when Davis’ insisted on wholesale changes between races.
In the new Pro Late Model split-feature format, Davis wasn’t happy with his and the car’s performance in the opening 20 lapper, coming home fifth in a field of 15.
The No. 42 team had about 30 to 45 minutes to make adjustments before the field would be inverted for the 30-lap finale.
“The car was junk,” Davis said plainly. “You name it, we changed it.”
They made so many drastic tweaks that as the final touches were wrapping up before the 30 lapper began, one crew member joked with Davis, “Be still. We’re gonna change the number on the car. It’s the only thing we ain’t changed yet.”
Blasphemous! All kidding aside, the new setup worked to perfection.
Davis was dominant in the 30 lapper, en route to what should’ve been an easy win. But, as with all things with Davis, he didn’t make it look simple.
Coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap, Davis lost control, crossing the finish line sideways before ramming nosefirst into the inside wall at Five Flags.
“I ain’t ever done anything so stupid,” he said.
His owner was a little more sympathetic.
“Bless his heart, he ain’t never torn anything up,” Tommy Preslar said. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen that happen in all my 36 years of racing. I wasn’t real happy, but sometimes that’s just part of deal.”
Neither Davis nor Preslar hopes that’s part of the deal come the Fields on Saturday.
All they’re concerned about is returning the No. 42 to its rightful, unique place, back in Victory Lane.