Quality control inspector Hollybell,
Steve's border collie, checking out the Craig-Berger-Schwartz
top fuel dragster.
Steve Davidson Race Cars began
in a small shop around 1993 in Prunedale, California. Steve was
an experienced welder and fabricator. He had worked for years
building aircraft cargo and baggage loading equipment for Lantis
Corporation in Salinas, and had also been working for some time
with renowned chassis builder Robert Stirling. This lifelong
Salinas Valley resident first took up welding as a student at
Gonzales High School (Gonzales, California). After graduation
(1986), Steve worked for a small job shop before moving on to
Lantis where he started out as a trainee welder. Lantis Corporation
was a major employer with over 300 shop employees. Steve steadily
proved his worth, eventually moving to the management side of
the business. However, when the company was sold to an overseas
buyer, the culture of the workplace changed dramatically, and
Steve knew it was time for a change. His growing frustration
with Lantis pointed him in a new direction, one closely linked
to the fortunes of Robert Stirling. Steve had known Robert since
the mid 1980s when his dad, Lee, decided to switch from racing
boats to drag cars.
Steve: My dad had purchased one of the Safeway Sandblasting
REDs to race in NHRA's Super Eliminator. He took it to Stirling
to have it updated. This is when I first met Robert. A little
later, I had an opportunity to build a junior fuel dragster and
went to Robert for a quote. Knowing that I was a fabricator,
he said I could have it for less if I wanted to do some of the
work. I guess he liked my work because I started working for
him on weekends. When the situation at Lantis became too much,
I jumped at the opportunity to build chassis for Trick Design.
This was a fully equipped shop but the owner needed a chassis
builder, so Robert sent me over to him to fulfill obligations
on three front engine dragsters. I built three FEDs in that shop
including one for Brian Van Dyke and one for Terry Caldwell.
About a year later, Robert sold his property in Salinas and moved
to Kingman, Arizona. That forced me to open my own place, the
small shop in Prunedale. I was there about eight years before
moving to a bigger site on Spence Rd. Today, Steve Davidson Race
Cars is located in a shop that I had built adjacent to my home
in the Salinas Valley.
WDIFL: How did you learn all the fine points
of chassis design?
Steve: Robert Stirling gave me direction, but basically,
I'm self taught. Robert said "
..this is the way you
..this is the way you bend tubing." There was
a lot of trial and error, and of course, I had to ask a lot of
questions. I was fortunate to be mentored by Robert, and I got
a lot of technical help from Don Long, too. Another big influence
for me was my grandfather. He was an engineer for Chrysler Corp.
for 35 years, the quintessential "car guy" from whom
I learned a great deal.
WDIFL: Anything unique or different about your
approach to chassis design, especially with reference to the
front engine nostalgia dragster?
Steve: The Craig-Berger-Schwartz dragster is the prototype
for my top fuel dragster design. I started building it in January
2007 and it hit the drag strip in time for the '07 Governor's
Cup at Sacramento Raceway. At that race, we qualified #2 at 5.95-244.02
and improved to 5.92 a month later at 'The Reunion'. The car
has run a best of 5.81 at 253 mph. I front halved it in 2009,
adding some additional tubing and safety features. The introduction
of the Hoosier tire caused a lot of problems for the nostalgia
fuel dragster teams. The construction of the tire was fine, but
it was breaking welds on the frames left and right. The Hoosier
tire grips more than the M&H and the havoc happens when it
grips then slips very rapidly; the M&H just slips when you
over-power it. The Hoosier is worst at low power and you really
have to put the coals to it to get it through the shake zone.
However, on the CBS car (Craig-Berger-Schwartz), it would only
bend the tubing because of a design feature I call the "floating
X in the bottom bed." This allows the frame to flex under
high stress without breaking welds. Also, I use Brutis welding
rod as opposed to mild steel welding rod. Brutis has a tensile
strength of 130,000 PSI as opposed to mild steel which has only
35,000 PSI tensile strength. Brutis was originally used to weld
the engines together on the space shuttle. Besides being rust
and corrosion resistant, it is very attractive too with its gold
seams. It is everything you would want in this business except
the cost which is about $100.00 per pound. But, I use it because
it is just superior to the alternatives and it allows me to "weld
Steve Davidson Race Cars is located
at 1280 Old Stage Rd. on the east side of scenic and serene Salinas
WDIFL: Any other projects on the jig?
Steve: I'm working on a NHRA pro dragster for a client
in Colorado. I also have a contract to build a 7.0 Pro car for
a racer in Arizona. Then, there is my ongoing Indy Car project
for Shadow Racing. Other than chassis construction, I tackle
small fabrication and design projects as well as high end aluminum
welding for clients. I built the latches and installed the canopy
on the Champion Speed Shop Chevy dragster.
WDIFL: You are a lifelong resident of the Salinas
Valley. You mentioned that your grandfather was a real car guy.
Anyone else involved in racing or motor sports?
Steve: My family has been involved with drag racing for
many years. My dad started in Super Eliminator in the 1980s and
still races his Stirling car in NHRA Super Comp today. When I
was growing up, I played baseball, football, and wrestled. As
an adult, I played ten years as a catcher and pitcher in league
play. My daughters, Krystal (20) and Rebeka (16) are both talented
softball players and their agenda has taken Michelle and I all
over California for their competitions. So, there is a lot more
to our family dynamic than just drag racing.
Steve and ex-top fuel pilot Doug
Aumack (Aumack Bros.), a mechanical
engineer by trade, discussing the fine points of design at the
The Brutis welding rod has a
goldish hue to it as shown on this close up of the welds on the
Craig-Berger-Schwartz top fuel dragster.
Don Williamson looking over photo
albums of race cars Steve has built; Don was the original owner
of the Hairy Canary funny car. His sons, Rick and Bret, are both
experienced drivers; Rick with the C-B-S top fuel dragster and
Bret with TA/FC and
All of Steve's tanks
are custom made in-house for each client.
Another dragster chassis
jigged up for a customer..
The welding table where Steve
tackles some of those smaller projects that require meticulous
and precise execution. Airgas Corp., the largest distributor
of specialty gases in the U.S., has provided Steve with invaluable
technical support over the years.
Steve also builds motorcycle
frames for flat track racing. The one to the right of Hollybell
belongs to current dirt track "phenom" 14 year old
Bauman of Salinas
Steve at the 2010 CHRR
..the favorite pastime
of the off season: bench racing. Steve, Mike Craig, Don Williamson,
and Doug Aumack relaxing and catching up on old times.
Steve and the legondary
Steve SanPaolo at the 2010 March Meet.
..Far from the madding
crowd's ignoble strife. Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life They kept the noiseless
tenor of their way." -Thomas Gray.
Steve, Rebeka, and Michelle sharing
time amidst the pastoral beauty of the Salinas Valley.
Mike Salinas and his
7.0 Pro dragster.
Steve Sheridan's A/F dragster
in the winner's circle at Sacramento Raceway; Jeremy Sullivan
drove the Davidson car to victory at the 2008 Fremont Reunion
Steve Wallace photo
When Steve Sheridan and Al Hawkins
split up, Al had Steve build him a new A/F dragster; Jeremy Sullivan
at Sacramento Raceway.
Jeremy Sullivan at the
2009 CHRR (post paint).
Bob Brown photo
Dan Maciel from Jamestown CA
driving Lee Jennings Sr.'s, immaculate '32 Bantam 7.0 Pro car.
Lee Paul Jennings' American Revolution
nostalgia funny car made its debut at Funny Car Fever in 2009;
after Steve had completed Code 3, he updated this Plueger chassis
for Lee Paul.
The Craig-Berger-Schwartz nostalgia
top fuel dragster has been a contender from the moment it hit
the strip, most recently with a semi-final finish at the 2009
CHRR, this coming on the heels of a R/U at the 2009 DragFest.
22 years, has helped Steve follow his dreams .
Mike & Kathy Craig
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