Kenny Davis has a Veterans Day routine, and it begins with seeking out military veterans in his workplace. Today, that group includes a host of Chip Ganassi Racing employees.
His offering to colleagues Tim White, Mike Daniels, Mike Harmon, Steve Namisnak, Dave Berkinfield and others in this close-knit motorsports community is a simple “thank you” for service.
“People have given up their lives (in service),” said Davis, who served nine years in the U.S. Army and lost many friends along the way. “I respect everyone’s service, so I go around and thank as many people as I can.”
Davis joined the Army in 1991, serving his first five years in South Korea as a helicopter mechanic, specializing in CH-47 Chinooks. Tensions with North Korea’s dictatorship were ever-present, sometimes leading the U.S. base to be on high alert. Davis remembers spending 24-hour stretches on his aircraft in preparation for what could happen.
Many of Davis’ friends served in Afghanistan, one of the many hot spots overseas for this generation of service personnel. Some of those soldiers didn’t return to become NTT INDYCAR SERIES crew members as Davis and others have.
“That’s why I’d rather see people who have given more than me get (the attention) over me,” Davis said.
After Korea, Davis served four years with a special operations unit based in Savannah, Georgia, where he met his wife, a native Hoosier. The couple relocated to the Indianapolis area in 2000 after he left the Army.
Davis recently completed his 15th season in INDYCAR, the first three with Vision Racing before joining Chip Ganassi’s organization in 2010. Today, Davis is responsible for the bodywork of the team’s four Indy cars, and in 2021 he also had the pleasure of changing the inside rear tires for seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and INDYCAR rookie Jimmie Johnson during race weekends.
Davis said there are many similarities between serving in the military and working on a race team, beginning with the strong commitment to teamwork. But the mechanical side of the businesses correlate, too, and as a flight engineer, as Davis was in the Army, he worked closely with the pilots just as engineers in the sport are in sync with the drivers.
“Tons of similarities,” Davis said. “Pretty much everything applies.”
Thus, it is not a coincidence that many people working in the INDYCAR paddock have a military background. Also, the correlation between the two entities is part of the reason why The American Legion, the largest veterans service organization with more than 2 million members, chose INDYCAR as its platform to raise awareness for veteran suicide.
The partnership with the Ganassi organization was announced in May during the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, a race Davis refused to miss even while serving his country in South Korea.
“Been a fan pretty much all my life, always following it,” said Davis, who was born in Alabama but raised in Texas. “In Korea, the live broadcast of the ‘500’ would be at 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’d stay up and watch it.”
Today, Davis’ view of the on-track action is up close, but he has never forgotten his past, especially on such a special day as today.
“I don’t really celebrate (Veterans Day) other than to thank and congratulate all of the other people who have served,” he said. “My family makes it important to me, and really that’s the biggest thing.”