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Racing business rides the Internet
by Dan McGee
Jan 17, 2010 | 1217 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee - Rich Davis, owner of Davis Motorsports of Reno, stands in his small warehouse showing how a HANS device would sit under a new carbon-fiber helmet for a racecar driver. Thanks to the Internet his business services a national and worldwide motorsports market.
Tribune/Dan McGee - Rich Davis, owner of Davis Motorsports of Reno, stands in his small warehouse showing how a HANS device would sit under a new carbon-fiber helmet for a racecar driver. Thanks to the Internet his business services a national and worldwide motorsports market.
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GOLDEN VALLEY - All sports stand on top of a support group made up of equipment suppliers and vendors. And racing is no exception, like the rest it's a pyramid where only the very top levels receive national attention and television coverage.

A good example of a business that supports racing is Davis Motorsports of Reno. A small family run company, founded in 1958, uses the Internet to service both a national and international.

"We do parts, cars and we sell to NASCAR teams nationwide as well as short and long track teams," said owner Rich Davis.

The business began after his father Carl Davis moved the family from Mustang, where he owned a gas station that was removed for I-80, and settled in San Jose.

"Then he started a BMW and Ducati motorcycle dealership," Davis said. "I started drag racing in 1964 and had a 427 Ford, which was pretty successful."

While Davis was attending San Jose State College, his father was ready to retire. At that time the business had two parts; one for NASCAR and stock car racing and the other for motorcycles.

Over the next four years, while the car part expanded the motorcycle venture tapered off. Eventually a dealer from Maryland bought the bike inventory.

"From '69 on, we were a NASCAR shop, heavily involved with NASCAR and stock car racing." he said. "Back then we did mail order nationwide but we did a lot at San Jose Speedway; won quite a few championships and sponsored quite a few cars."

Helping his father was Bob Barkhiemer, who brought NASCAR to the West Coast after signing an agreement with founder Bill France. And at one time there were 27 western tracks sanctioned under the NASCAR banner.

"Bob got doors opened for us, nationwide and where ever we wanted to go," Davis said. "So when I went back to Daytona or any of the tracks in the rest of the country he opened any door I needed."

Barkhiemer not only became a close family friend but also mentored the Davis family in the racing business.

By now the little shop serviced West Coast customers and built chassis or complete cars. And they were the first dealer to offer ATL fuel cells.

Revolutionary at the time, fuel cells offered a huge advance in safety as they helped prevent fires from damaged fuel tanks.

"And of course fuel cells became NASCAR mandated. Then we were one of the first Halon distributors and that type of extinguisher became mandated as well," he said.

The late 1960's and early 1970's were a time of great advances in safety equipment.

"The business flourished and I think our first million dollar year was 1985," he said. "And then we made a mistake as in about 1983 we became very enamored with sprint cars. We went sprint car racing for quite a few years and sponsored some World of Outlaw champions."

In 1985 they sold 87 brand new sprint cars and were Gambler Chassis third largest dealer. Looking back Davis feels they should have moved the entire operation to North Carolina.

However he added the market for sprint car racing really hasn't grown very much, if any, since the 1980's while NASCAR racing's market flourished.

But remaining in San Jose turned out to be an advantage because the business was one of the few suppliers in the West Coast.

"We had two advantages as some of the vendors were from the west and had the home-court advantage as well as being on the forefront of technology," he said. "And we had no competition here at that time even though the stock car business was huge on the West Coast."

During that period NASCAR racing in the west was all about short tracks with the only exception being the mile oval at Phoenix. Over the past couple of decades this changed as larger tracks have been built in this side of the country.

One change Davis didn't like came when California tracks began to close and their land sold for housing. He saw the loss of the old San Jose Speedway, fairgrounds and Baylands.

"Racetracks in California aren't politically correct," he said. "They had a golden opportunity to bring a mile track to San Jose but the city and Santa Clara County wanted no part of a racetrack."

If that had been built the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, now held at Infineon Raceway outside of Sonoma, probably would have gone to San Jose along with the economic bonanza the event now brings to the north-bay area.

Not liking what he saw, Davis looked toward Nevada.

"It's very business friendly up here," he said. "We actually came to Reno in 2000, my wife and I to retire. We had sold two properties in San Jose and came to literally play with racecars."

However, their Web site took off, going from a half a million hits to over three quarter million hits so the couple's plans changed and they moved the business to Golden Valley.

"With the Web site we discovered that easily 75% of our business is east of the Mississippi and 95% of it is all Internet," he said.

The Internet marked a change for the company as it went from the expense of printing and mailing catalogues to keeping up a Web site.

"Anybody worldwide could see our parts and we could ship them out the same day," he said. "What surprised me was that our main Web site now gets from a million-four to a million-six hits a month and here we are just a small company in Reno."

An example he cited was an order for a car lift that is being shipped to Norway. Another was a set of scales shipped from Minnesota to Australia and a horn sent to Israel.

"It's gone from brick and mortar to html code," he said. "Depending on the manufacture about 70 to 80% of the products we never see as it goes right to the customer."

The result is only a small building, stocking selected items, is needed.

Looking back Davis noted that the business has come full circle. After first focusing on NASCAR and stock car racing the attention switched to sprint car racing and now has come back to where it began.

The market according to Davis isn't at the top levels of the sport due to there being only a finite amount of teams and drivers. He explained that most of the sales happen on the short and intermediate tracks, where thousands of racers compete in their local areas.

"For every one fuel cell that ends up in a Cup, Nationwide car or Camping World Truck there are a thousand that will be sold for short track cars," he said. "The Saturday night bull rings are where your sales are. If you took every NASCAR cup driver in the world you're probably only talking about 200 drivers that need a HANS device yet we'll sell that many devices a month to short track racers."

A HANS device protects a driver's head from being whipped around during an impact and is credited with saving more than a few lives.

Currently, Davis and his son Richie run that the business along with wife Candi, who he married a couple of years ago. Each day they all spend a lot of time in front of various computers.

The Internet offers unrivaled flexibility and speed as in the case of one HANS device sale. It was purchased on a Wednesday, had to be in North Carolina by Friday then onto Dubai where it was needed by a BMW team on Sunday.

"It's amazing the amount of customers we see that need something today that tomorrow is going somewhere else," he said. "You know, I'll be 64 next month and I finally figured I don't need to work harder but smarter."

One side of the business, started by his late wife Sandy, is selling older NASCAR racers to collectors and those that race them in vintage road racing series. As a result a Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon or any other driver's fan can actually buy one of their racecars.

"It's unlimited as everybody is buying them up," he said. "The cars are very basic, rear ends, A-arms, drive line parts and 90% are interchangeable with an ARCA car so you can hand parts down to any level of car."

Like any business Davis has made some changes due to the current economic conditions. One thing that gives him hope goes back to his mentor Barkhiemer.

"He said he'd gone all the way up and all the way down three times in his life as a track owner but Bob still remained a very positive person through out his life," Davis said.

Barkhiemer explained that racing is an outlet and when times get tough and people are out of work while they might not go to the movies but if they're fans, they'll go to the races.

"He said they can cheer for their favorite, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, or Kyle Busch and if they go home with a smile on their face they'll go back to the next race," Davis said.

However, there have been some changes in marketing due to the situation.

"In the 70's we saw the gas lines that were horrendous but I never thought I would live to see the economy where it's at today or last year," he said. "So we took a very aggressive approach and started selling meatloaf rather than prime rib."

He cited Longacre, a major manufacturer of computer scales and pit equipment that found they had a pallet of entry-level scales. Hearing this Davis asked them to give him a month to see if he could sell these units before they were put out for clearance.

Selling at $879 a unit, he sold all 20 of them and asked that more be built. In the end 129 sets were sold that helped improve his business 5% while Longacre's sales dropped by 40% for the year.

After proving the low-end market is viable, Longacre decided to continue producing these scales, as their high-end scales aren't selling.

Currently, Davis is improving the company's Web site that will incorporate three sites into one virtual shopping mall.

"We want the front door to be as wide as the world," he said. "And it will be a one-stop shopping for those wanting parts or cars."

The new site is, www.davismotorsportsofreno.com, which is still being refined. Another part is their original site, www.goracing.com.

And for wanting to purchase a real NASCAR racer, there is www.nascarcars4sale.com.

Buoying his optimism is the markets the Internet offer his business.

"It's unlimited and a type of thing that, whether I sell 10 HANS devices this week or 30, depends on how many people click their mouse and order," he said. "And I don't even have to answer the phone.
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