It is with sadness that I have to write this post, saying farewell to a mentor of mine, David E. Davis, Jr.
He was called a lot of things, the most complimentary of which would have to be “The Dean of Automotive Journalists.” He was a force of nature, he was utterly authentic, and he gave me a chance–a foot in the door as a copyeditor and then copy chief at his start-up car magazine Winding Road (yes, I’ll call it his, because after he was gone from the helm, the thing unraveled like a cheap sweater).
I am forever grateful that he spotted my talent and encouraged me, but most of all I am grateful that David let me into his life. That he told me his stories, and that he let me be a part of the final chapter.
Every story David told seemed to be linked to a memento he kept on his wide oak desk (the grenade, anyone?), or lining his bookshelves–representing literally half a century of automotive and racing history. But for David it was about more than the cars themselves. It was about car people.
The helmet he kept from the crash that scraped half his face onto a racetrack at age 25 didn’t represent a story about suffering. It was a two-part story: Part one about how if he could face death, no client meeting could ever go so badly that he would ever be intimidated again. Part two was a hilarious anecdote about how the helmet makers tried to advertise the fact that their product had saved David’s life. He begged to differ, writing to politely notify them that he had survived in spite of their handiwork. Always a punchline at the end.
How can I even begin to tell you the stories he told, and how he told them?
Everyone knows David E. reinvented automotive journalism. In fact, if you’ve read any major car magazine in the last couple of decades, that irreverant style is an echo of David E.’s inimmitable voice. He was a master storyteller. He wrote like he spoke, and told me that eventually he began to speak like he wrote. He refused to use the subjunctive case in his writing, because he hated the way it sounded. Bravo to a man who could use the English language so intentionally and with such passion. He not only wrote like he spoke: he wrote like he lived.
It weighed on David that his friends were dying around him, that the automotive industry he had helped to shape was crumbling at his doorstep. Well, now you have graduated with your friends, David E. I do hope and pray that you are well, and that they have good scotch wherever you’ve gone. Please rest in peace.