Wendell Davis has been involved in stock car racing for years, establishing himself as a quintessential car owner and crew chief in the Eastern North Carolina racing landscape.
Last season was perhaps Davis’ most successful season as a crew chief. He helped lead Brandon Clements to a championship at Carteret County Speedway, aided Paul Williamson and Chris Chapman in victories at Southern National, and capped off the season winning a second consecutive Thanksgiving Classic with Matt McCall. However, his presence in Late Model racing extends back a couple of decades.
Davis, 53, from Seven Springs, North Carolina, got into racing when he was 12-years-old. In the early 1980s, he began helping his brother, Jerry, at dirt tracks such as Fayetteville Motor Speedway and Dublin Motor Speedway while also assisting the late Jerry Moody.
“We raced all the way up,” Davis told Race22.com. “I only raced with him. I helped Jerry Moody some on his car when I was younger. Me and my brother raced and won a lot of championships and races. Started in Mini-Stock, Street Stock, right on up to Limited. In 2005, he had a bad wreck at Southern National and busted a bone in his face. He quit racing for a couple of years.
“Me and John Whaley teamed up and ran two years. Had two great years. Won the championship at Southern National. I think we won about 20 races. Then me and John kind of hooked up with Jerry Moody and raced a few races. Me and Jerry kind of hooked up then and then I went Late Model Stock racing pretty much the whole time.”
When Jerry Moody and Wendell Davis were working together, they had their sights set on even greater success and, when they needed a driver, they called on Matt McCall.
“Me and Jerry built a new car,” Davis explained. “I’ll quote what Jerry told me. He said we had the best that money could buy and he wanted the best driver he could find. I had been with him in 2005 and watched Matt. Matt was the real deal. I suggested to Jerry to see if we could get Matt McCall. He thought that was a great idea. I called Matt. Actually, I didn’t know Matt, but I called his crew chief, David Flynn, and David told me he thought that Matt would love to drive for us. In 30 minutes, Matt called back ready to come set the car up and go racing. It’s been a good ride. Had a good time.”
The result was a UARA Late Model championship in 2009.
Davis and Moody weren’t just friends. Jerry became Davis’ brother-in-law when he married Becky Davis Moody on September 27, 1986. Moody and Davis remained close until Moody’s death on November 24, 2013 – two days after Moody’s adopted daughter, Haley, scored a miraculous victory at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
“Saddest thing in my life,” Davis said. “Going to see him that night, the first night as I found out, the hardest thing I ever had to do my whole life. When he left [Myrtle Beach] that day, I knew it was the last time I would see him in my life. I could tell. He made himself stay alive, he maintained to see that. By the time they took him out of the track that night, he had run his race, he was over with. That’s one way to put it.”
The Davis and Moody family remain close. Davis even maintained cars for his niece, Haley, in 2016 and 2017.
Throughout the years, Davis has watched the costs of racing skyrocket. While he’s not a motor guru, he feels like something needs to be done to rein in costs.
“I ain’t got an opinion because I don’t know that much about it,” Davis remarked. “I ain’t much on motors. David West builds our motors and I know he builds good motors and that’s as far as I go with that. But something’s got to be done because it’s just so expensive. A car owner like me, it’s very expensive. We run as our pocketbook lets us. You know, I can’t go run 25 races a year. 10 races a year, maybe.”
While a lot of multi-car Late Model teams have big budgets, Davis and his drivers find success through grit and willpower. Whether it’s a late night at Wendell’s shop just outside of Kinston or it’s an off-weekend, racers and crew members, such as Brandon Clements, Bobby Morris, Chris “Cheeseburger” Chapman, Paul Williamson, and Gerald Benton, among others, are turning wrenches to prepare for the next race. Perhaps if Davis had a big budget to work with, his teams would be among the elites in Late Model Stock Car racing.
“We could compete with anybody,” Davis stated. “Brandon, Cheeseburger, if Matt was able. Brandon could compete with any of them. He is a fine driver. That’s what made last season so successful, you know, just having that kind of drivers.”
Davis was never a racer himself. He ran a few times but decided he would rather work on the cars, and through the years, he acquired the basic knowledge – knowledge that he says were taken to “another level” working with McCall.
“I never wanted to race myself, so I liked working on them,” Davis commented. “I tried it when I was about 18-years-old on dirt and I was smart enough to know I wasn’t a driver. I ran two races and quit. I didn’t do bad. I had decent runs in my brother’s backup old car, but I knew I wasn’t a racecar driver.”
The 2018 season was a very successful one for Davis, and it started strong right out of the gate with Chapman, who goes by the nickname Cheeseburger, scoring a victory early in the season at Southern National Motorsports Park.
“Cheeseburger won the 100-lap opener at Kenly and went to Myrtle Beach and finished second in the points,” Davis said. “He had a son go-kart racing last year so we never went and tested the whole season. We showed up and raced and still finished second in the points. We didn’t put a lot of emphases because he had a son go-kart racing and I thought he should be with him. Went to Myrtle Beach and got our sixth second-place finish down there for the big Limited race. That’s six times out of eight years I think, second. Still, ain’t got a win there. Last year was a really good season.”
From there, the success continued. Brandon Clements picked up six wins at two different tracks and a championship at Carteret County Speedway while Paul Williamson scored a breakthrough win at Southern National Motorsports Park.
“Paul won his first race at Southern National,” Davis elaborated. “He and Brandon battled for that won, Brandon won it, but they were neck-and-neck at East Carolina that night. Paul had a good year. They didn’t race that much. They took off some time, had some other stuff going on. Hurricane, they’re hog farmers, so that threw a lot of extra work at them and me.”
While Clements was the dominator at Carteret County Speedway, winning five races, there is just one goal Davis has now with Clements – winning one of the track’s marquee races, which were dominated by Layne Riggs in 2018.
“We want that,” Davis commented. “The car wasn’t perfect but we found another issue that was even worse than the car not being right. I’m not going to go into that. We had something wrong. I would have loved to have one more chance. He and Riggs would put on a heck of a race. He would have had company with him.”
Davis is a farmer by day, growing tobacco, soybeans, corn and also managing a 16-house hog farm – which Davis says has 11,300 top hogs. While his Saturday nights were successful, he faced adversity on the farm in the late summer when Hurricane Florence, which stands as one of the worst natural disasters in North Carolina history, devastated Eastern North Carolina.
“It was big,” Davis recalled. “Almost had a deal for Martinsville and I thank good God it didn’t go through because I wouldn’t have been able to hold my end of the deal because I had so much work to do, for the storm, I would’ve probably had to tell the people I was going to have to bail out on them. But it didn’t go through, so it all worked out. It was big, terrible. It was very devastating, the amount of money we lost.”
In 2019, Davis will work on cars for Gerald Benton, Brandon Clements, Chris Chapman, Bobby Morris, and Paul Williamson.