WAR PARTY RIDES ON
If you stood on the shore of Lake Ming at the NJBA Spring race in Bakersfi eld, California May 16 & 17, you were there with a special group of people I am lucky enough to call some of my best friends as they brought the “War Party” out of its trailer for the fi rst ti me in 5 and a half years. They blew out the cobwebs, gave it a good once over and then ran a full track pass….damn near without a hitch, looking just like the TAF Nancy Davis remembered when her husband, Jerry, was the pilot!! The smile on her face at the end of the fi rst run was the smallest of many huge smiles we witnessed during this memorable weekend! Bill Diez was in the driver’s seat and had not driven in a capsule boat since he was in “ATTA Special”…and crashed at Marble Falls 5 years ago…which makes him wonder if Nancy was really thinking clearly when she asked him to drive!!!
I asked Nancy to share with our readers about her and her late husband, veteran drag boat racer Jerry Davis. If you know Nancy and have talked with her, you know her quiet demeanor and her capti vati ng, disti ncti ve accent and can probably hear her now. Her voice is as sweet as sugar and like music to my ears….We Love You Nancy!!
Nancy told us about the rich history that was Jerry’s legacy and it goes back a long way. “Actually, Jerry did not start out in a TAF, he began racing circle boats and ski jet’s in 1971 and immediately boat racing became a way of life. One of his boats was named “Hot L Hondo”. Along the way he moved up to Comp Jet, running a Hondo called “Pure Money”. He also had a Howard Flatbott om called “Wompas Cat”. In 1977, he purchased a Hondo and named it “War Party”. By this ti me, he had moved up to the Blown Alcohol Flat class that is now known as TAF. Jerry’s next boat was a Canyon Marine Flat. Jerry crashed the Canyon Marine in Waco, Texas and from then on he ran a Mako, Hondo, and then another Hondo, which is the one Jerry drove unti l his passing.’”
Logistically speaking, I’ve always felt race enthusiasts looking for a new relati onship should look within the drag boat family… makes it easier! Because once drag boat racing gets into your blood, you are done for…unable to allow yourself to make any other plans if there is a race going on. Well…. Nancy and Jerry were some of the fortunate ones! Nancy remembers, “Jerry and I met at a boat race in Liberty, Texas in 1987. Jerry was always in charge of that race, as he belonged to the Houston Boat Club. He raced the Liberty race every year as well as put it on. We were introduced and he went back to his pit and told his crew ‘I am going to marry that lady there with the braids!’ (Nancy used to wear her hair in braids all the ti me) Nancy conti nues, “I was not new to the sport of drag boat racing. I became involved in racing in 1978 with the original “Nati onal Debt” BGJ team. And, like Jerry, it only took the fi rst race for me to become addicted to the sport!! Together we became the Jerry and Nancy Davis “War Party” Racing Team.
“Throughout Jerry’s racing career, we and our team won many Highi Points and Runner Up Championships and two World Finals Championships. Along with these awards, there were many special recogniti on award, some of which included Jerry’s inducti on into the SDBA Hall of Fame, the David Skalicky Memorial Award, and the fi rst recipient of the Don Ermshar Memorial Award.”
Nancy told us, “Jerry’s long boat racing career was fi lled with excitement, thrills, and a few chills… During it all, he always said, his goal was to ‘Go Boat Racing’. We all know, with boat racing, crashes happen. With Jerry, his desire to get back in the boat was what drove him to get bett er and he always did get bett er with me right by his side and by the Grace of God and RESP. For Jerry, myself, and the enti re team, it was also about the other racers and the fans across the US. Jerry and I, along with our team enjoyed a tremendous following from both. And from that came love and respect from racers and fans alike even as we speak”.
With the passing of Jerry, Nancy has stayed involved in boat racing with “RESP” (Racers Emergency Support Program) and she has also been involved with the Nitrochondriac TFH team, but has had the “War Party” boat tucked away. I asked her what her goal was for the boat. Nancy said, “My goal and desire has always been to put “War Party” back on the water. That was Jerry’s wish as well. He wanted the boat to go back out there if at all possible”. I told Nancy it looks like she is accomplishing that goal. “Yes, I asked God all the ti me to help make it happen and He did. It is fi nally becoming a reality. In the past, I thought it was going to happen but things just did not come together unti l now.” Nancy conti nued, “I had talked to Bill Diez and Andy Dement on more than one occasion and they were always supporti ve of my goal. Also, John, Jerry’s son wanted to see it happen. As it turned out, Bill and I had meeti ngs and talked about my desire to get the boat back out on the water, and we both talked to Andy and here we are.” I spoke with Bill and he told me that he and Nancy sat on a golf cart in Wheatland for about an hour and came up with a plan. He says he was amazed, honored and humbled to be chosen out of all of the drivers and teams that she knows and could have asked but chose him for the driving duti es. Nancy said, “Jerry respected Bill and Andy and had, of course, raced with both of them. In fact, Andy was the last person to race Jerry at the World Finals, Phoenix 2009. Andy has the ‘Red Alert’ TAF and Bill drove the late Gene Hackett ’s ‘ATTA Special’ TAF. I am thrilled to have Bill as our driver and to have Andy tune, along with Curti s Kemp, Jeff Jones, and Nancy Stacks on the crew. Hopefully my brother Andy will get involved again and cousin Suzie will come sell shirts!”
Everyone was wondering how Nancy would feel seeing the boat run for the fi rst ti me. She was so excited to be out at the track in Bakersfi eld and was glad to have her great friend and member of the original crew, Nancy Stacks with her. Nancy told Nancy Davis, “I am not going to let you take War Party out by yourself” and Nancy Stacks came along for the trip from Texas, not only as a friend but as a crew member as well. I know it was a comfort to have her friend and team member along for the trip!
Drag Boat Review asked Nancy Davis how it felt to be back. She told me, “ I do not know if I can express the feelings…..Friday on the way to the track, I received a text message about a poem that Britt any Cagle, my good friend Beverly Stokes’ granddaughter wrote. Her class received the assignment to write a poem about someone in their life who had passed away. Britt any had no idea we were going to be racing in Bakersfi eld. Here is the poem:
My Boat Racer. Your name was Jerry. You just made everyone and everything so merry. Racing going 150 miles per hour. You made that boat fl y with so much power. I miss you a lot. You put me so much into deep thought. I can just talk about you all day But now, our memories are just stuck on replay.
“For me to receive Britt any’s poem at the same ti me we are putti ng ‘War Party’ out there was very emoti onal, as we are running “War Party” in honor of Jerry. She is 15 years old and she certainly touched my heart with her poem and as soon as I read it, I knew again that we had made the right decision”.
“When they called us to the water the first through the fourth ti me, I was excited, happy, crying, laughing and a whole lot more. When Bill was put in the water, and with each pass, I had all of those same emoti ons. I knew in my heart that Jerry was very VERY happy and proud to have Bill drive and to have the team we put together!! I also knew he was with us as I found my penny at the track!!” I KNEW there was a story here so I asked her “At every boat race I have been to since Jerry passed away I have found a penny….at EVERY racetrack. So I know Jerry is there with us….it is unbelievable that I have found one….always. I have a picture of Bill and I holding the penny at Bakersfield.”
I asked Bill about getting ready to run the boat and he told me, “I needed to knock the dust out of my driving shoes so I took “Ace of Spades” to Phoenix so I could get some seat time prior to jumping into what we call Jerry’s Hot Rod. It felt good to be back on the water and I am looking forward to this next venture. After Phoenix I flew to Oklahoma City, and with some help in the form of a borrowed truck from a good and generous friend, Todd Swartz, and then more help from another racer and good guy, Kevin Helm, who donated the use of his trailer, we were ready to drive to Conroe to pick up the boat. Both Matt Counts and Justin “Stewie” Stewart graciously offered their help and they traveled to Conroe as well and we inventoried everything and loaded up. I was now ready to put a jillion miles on Todd’s truck and Kevin’s trailer and head back home to Arizona. Another crew member I appreciate is Kevin Niediek. He is very hardworking, always willing to help and has been instrumental in getting things done. I feel with Andy, who I have worked alongside for 20 plus years, along with Curtis and Jeff we can make good things happen. Nancy turned this whole thing over to us and trusted our group to treat it like our own; however, since it is Jerry and Nancy’s hot rod, this team will treat it better!!”
Bill’s capsule helmet breathing system needed to be tested prior to going out to race and since Bill and I are both in Bullhead City, he called up to see if he could come up to use the pool where I work. (I manage Stone Ridge apartments, truly the best community in the area… considering a relocation?...we are a vacation destination, just 2 miles from the river and 3 miles from Laughlin Nevada…. ah, my shameless plug!) The day Bill arrived, my neighbor and his 5 year old son were swimming and they were both excited to watch how this was going to work! When Bill asked the dad to put his hand on top of his helmet and hold him down, he looked up at me with huge eyes and said, “This is unnatural, are you sure he will be ok?? Are you really sure I should do this??!!” Bill told him to watch his hand signals and let go when he gave a thumbs up. The boy had goggles and a snorkel so he could breathe under water and was completely blown away that Bill was…. LIKE AQUAMAN??!! I do not think I have ever freaked out a resident as much as we did that day!! They both still talk about it!
This group of guys I am lucky to call my friends have worked together over the years on many different boats and they all work very well together. Bill told me, “Each of these guys brings their own unique talents to the table which gives us a better opportunity for success. Everyone on this crew has experienced some loss very close to their own heart over the years and from this we are going to go out and do the very best that we can for Nancy and for Jerry’s legacy. Our biggest goal is to go out and have fun racing with our friends. Out of all the people Nancy could have asked to drive Jerry’s Hot Rod, I am very humbled that she chose me. I don’t know if I was the first one she asked or the last one and I was the only one that said yes, but it’s an honor!!”
Other than the immediate crew, they had Jeff’s fiancé Jill and Bill’s girlfriend Michelle helping out to be sure everyone was well fed and cared for. Michelle brought one of their dogs, Penny, who was a bit shy…I think it was her first race! We saw Bill’s dad Randy as well. He came to show his support and watch his son, and Curtis brought his wonderful dog Ruby. There was a whole lot of Flatbottom racing history floating around the pits. We saw “Liquid Dan” Aaseth lending a hand and Phyllis Ermshar also attended, and along with Bill and Nancy they used the opportunity to encourage racers to join RESP. There were plenty of friends and family around for this exciting race! Nancy wrapped it up by saying, “We made two runs on Saturday and two on Sunday and with each pass we improved. Our best elapsed time was 5.65 at 148 miles per hour. We were very pleased and excited with the results and Bill’s thoughts about the boat. Andy, the entire crew and the fans have been absolutely wonderful…Bill has just made me feel so comfortable….he told me many times it is such an honor. We have loved and respected all of the guys and really do want them to treat it like it was their own. I am so proud to be working with a great group of guys.”
Drag Boat Review wants to know what are the plans are for the team now. Nancy, smiling ear to ear, exclaimed “Our next race will be San Angelo. Our plan is to give Bill seat time and to have fun! Thank God for giving all of us this opportunity. A special thanks for all of the kind words and support from our families, racers, and fans. I am so excited!”
The team went out and did what they do best….went racing….and with their knowledge, experience and safety all in check they had a blast! I was so happy to watch my guys, my best racing buddies, get back out there!
Until Next Time, Tamari