By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Most drivers at Beckley Motorsports Park race for the fun of it.
They work a full day, tinker with their cars at night, and race them on the weekend.
But on the pro circuits, such as the FASTRAK Racing Series or Lucas Oil Series, driving is a true labor of love.
And for Jonathan Davenport of Mount Airy, N.C., it’s a full-time occupation.
“It’s really a dream job,” he said. “I have a passion for it, and it puts food on the table for my family.”
Davenport is one of 244 drivers in town for the FASTRAK World Championships, which started Thursday at BMP.
He’s run 72 races this season, winning 12 and earning 35 Top 5 finishes and 45 Top 10s.
Last year he competed full-time in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and was named its Rookie of the Year.
Davenport gets around.
“We probably go 30,000 miles a year. We get to Wisconsin, to Florida, to Arkansas. From the Midwest to the East,” he said. “We work hard. We put in long hours during the week, and we leave Thursday or Friday and don’t get home until Sunday night. Then we start again on Monday.
“It’s a lot of hours, but you have to have a special love for the sport.”
Davenport has raced for 22 of his 29 years. He began with go-carts and moved up to mini-stocks when he was 10. He turned to asphalt racing for a few years, then came back to dirt tracks and began racing late models.
This is his third time in the FASTRAK championships.
“I’ve been in the hunt both times, but we had bad luck to take us out.” he said. “The first time I was in second place and a rock went through my radiator.”
Like most drivers, Davenport has improved with experience. He’s aggressive when needed, but he knows you can’t win with worn tires.
“I make sure they’re as good or better than anyone else’s in the last five or 10 laps of the race,” he said. “You don’t want to wear them out or blister them up too early.”
Staying out of wrecks is also a priority. He once had an accident where he hit an outside wall, flipped four times and destroyed the car.
“I crushed the roll cage, busted my helmet and bent my seat around,” Davenport said. “It probably knocked a little sense into me. I’ve slowed down a bit since then.”
This is his second visit to BMP, a 3/8th-mile banked oval in Prosperity known for its high speeds.
Earlier this year, he competed in a FASTRAK race here and finished second.
“I ran pretty decent, but I got spun out and had to go to the back,” Davenport recalled. “I felt we had a good opportunity to win that race, and maybe I can capitalize on that now.”
He really didn’t plan to come back to Beckley.
“I’ll be honest. It’s not my style of racing,” he said. “I like bigger, momentum tracks.
“But it’s fun. It’s real racy here, and you can pass on it pretty good. Banked tracks make for a better show, especially at night. The track gets loose and you can maneuver around and go wherever your car is working best.
“So I’m back again.”
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The FASTRAK Championships continue tonight with the “topless” Friday Night Fights. The tops of the cars will be removed, and drivers will be divided into two groups. Feature winners will earn $2,000 apiece.
Racing will start at 7 p.m. Supporting races will feature Outlaw Modifieds and Hornets.
Admission cost is $20 per person. The evening will conclude with a concert by Cody Wickline.
Saturday is Championship Day, with three FASTRAK events plus supporting races from Open-Wheel Modifieds and Street Stocks.
Action will get under way at 6 p.m. with the FASTRAK World Challenge. Qualifying and heat races are followed by a 50-lap feature race. The winner gets $2,000.
The top 24 drivers from the World Challenge heat races who did not make it to the feature race will battle in the Engine Builders 25. The race is 25 laps or 25 minutes, with the purse to be announced.
The grand finale World Championship will present a qualifying race, heat race, b-main and feature race.
The winner takes home $2,000.
Gates will open at 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $25.
— E-mail: dstillwell