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GSU grad enjoys working with Junior

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    Some say he has the best job in sports.
    And though his life often feels like a whirlwind, Mike Davis, a 2001 graduate
of Georgia Southern University, certainly wouldn’t argue. As the director of communications at JR Motorsports, Davis is the head public relations man for NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Among other things, Davis is charged with keeping Earnhardt’s packed schedule, coordinating his appearances with sponsors and overseeing company-wide media requests. In 2004, he was named to Sports Illustrated’s list of “Thirty people under 30 with the best sports jobs in America.”
    “If you take away the part where we gripe about the grind and the schedule, it is the coolest job ever,” said Davis, a journalism major who grew up in Ringgold, a small town in northwest Georgia. “You’ve always got to remind yourself of that. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else, and I wouldn’t want to be working for anybody else.”

The Lifestyle
    There’s hardly any down time in Davis’ hectic, on-the-go world, which doesn’t allow much time for being at home.
    During a typical week, he works in the office Monday through Wednesday, days which often include photo and commercial shoots. Then it’s off to whichever city is hosting the week’s race, and Thursday-Sunday are spent on the road.
    “It’s a lot of time on a Blackberry and a laptop computer,” he said. “It’s always on the run.”
    This year’s been particularly chaotic for Davis and Earnhardt, who announced in May he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team his late legendary father founded, at the end of this season. The move made Earnhardt the sport’s biggest free agent and set off a month-long frenzy that ended in June when he signed a five-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports.
    “It’s been ridiculous with all the announcements,” Davis said. “The attention we’ve generated this year with the press conferences has really been a grind, but it’s just part of it. I was busy before, but that was nothing compared to what it’s been this year. It’s been a crazy couple months, but it’s still fun.”
    While there are plenty of perks that come with being the public relations man for NASCAR’s highest paid driver, Davis said one aspect he enjoys the most is working with national media – such as USA Today, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Today Show — on a day-to-day basis.
    One of Davis’ best experiences came in 2004 when he worked with legendary newsman Mike Wallace for a “60 Minutes” profile on Earnhardt. He also enjoyed a trip to ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn., to shoot commercials for the widely popular “This is SportsCenter” campaign. 
    “You can’t do that without somebody like Dale Jr.,” Davis said. “You can’t get to know these people because anybody on a lesser scale just doesn’t attract that attention. That stuff is what motivates me.”

Getting started
    Breaking into the NASCAR industry isn’t easy.
    Davis, who worked in Georgia Southern’s athletic media relations office while he was in school, enjoyed college-level PR but wasn’t interested in making a career out of it. Always a fan of auto racing, he sent out numerous resumes for jobs in NASCAR but wound up writing for a newspaper in Albany for about six months after graduating.
    Then out of the blue, he got a call from The Motorsports Decisions Group, a public relations firm in Charlotte, N.C., he’d sent a resume to months earlier. He took the job in early 2002 and began working for a NASCAR Busch series team with a Cup driver, Jimmy Spencer.
    “It’s a hard industry to get into, and I knew if I could just get my foot in the door I would be able to make an impression and try to make a career out of it,” Davis said. “It was just getting in the door.”
    Before he had a chance to unpack in Charlotte, he was on a plane to Daytona, Fla., where Speed Week had already started.
    “It was baptism by fire,” he said. “One day I was covering high school sports in Albany, and two days later I was in Daytona for the first time working in NASCAR. The first week was extremely difficult. It was pretty cool.”
    In 2003, Davis began working at Ultra Motorsports before moving to fingerprint, inc. the following year to coordinate public relations for the Budweiser Racing program in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. That’s when he first began working with Earnhardt, and after three years with fingerprint, he joined JR Motorsports in February 2007.

'A 32-year-old redneck'
    Davis said he’s blessed work for a driver with a colorful persona who the media like to cover.
    “Junior has a personality that people flock to and that people want to write about,” Davis said. “As a PR guy, what else can you ask for?”
    Drumming up publicity for Earnhardt is never difficult, but coordinating his public relations presents a whole new set of challenges for Davis. With hundreds of requests for Earnhardt constantly streaming in, Davis opts to focus on the quality of the promotions they do and tries to pick and choose which will have the most impact. He often has to determine what’s feasible given Junior’s crazy schedule, and he tries to take care of everyone at least once. Davis enjoys letting people get to know Junior.
    So is the Earnhardt we see through the media - a down-to-earth, fun-loving, beer-guzzling country boy – an accurate portrayal of the driver?
    “Certainly,” Davis said. “That’s pretty nice to have. It’d be hard to be in those shoes and stay grounded. He’s got a lot of people after him.
     “Not that he doesn’t have his days. We all have our days. He and I are probably good for about one or two arguments a month, some really good ones. But that’s part of it. It’s why we get along. We’re friends and are pretty open and honest with each other. He’s got bad days, I’ve got bad days and sometimes we are having them at the same time, which is usually when it really gets interesting.”
    Prior to press conferences, Davis puts together talking points for Junior, but the truth is Earnhardt doesn’t need them.
    “He’s got more common sense than any of us put together, and he always amazes me,” Davis said. “As much as I might stress over what we say here and what we say there, he just rolls. That’s just the type of guy he is. He’s got a lot of his dad’s common sense in him, and he handles those situations perfectly.”
    Despite what people think, Davis and others don’t work hard on Earnhardt’s image, they just stay true to what that the image is – aw-shucks and carefree.
    “He’s basically just a 32-year-old redneck who’s made it pretty good for himself and can drive race cars,” Davis said.
    That image won’t alter when Earnhardt starts racing for Hendrick Motorsports, a team known for its polished drivers. Earnhardt wanted to make sure of that, asking team owner Rick Hendrick, “You’re not going to make me start tucking in my shirt or anything are ya?” the day before the press conference announcing he was going to Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick replied that he wouldn’t try to change who Junior was, Davis said.

Moments to remember
    Davis’ most memorable moment to date is Earnhardt’s 2004 win at the Daytona 500, Davis’ first race working for the star.
    “That whole experience was unbelievable, to be at the Daytona 500 in Victory Lane,” Davis said. “It took his dad 18 or 19 years to be able to win that race. He tried and tried and never could win it, and his dad was the man. It’s hard to beat that.”
    Away from the hustle and bustle of the race track, some of Davis’ favorite times come after the group flies back home to North Carolina after working all weekend. They sit on Earnhardt’s porch, unwinding while they drink cold beer and catch up with friends who have “normal lives.”
    “It’s not really exciting or glamorous, but when you’re on the road so much just being able to sit on your front porch - those are some of the golden moments right there,” Davis said.
    Although his wife is very supportive, the 30-year-old Davis only plans on keeping his current position for another year or two. He hopes to continue working in the industry but in a less travel-intensive role that’ll allow him to raise kids.
    As for the best venue in NASCAR, Davis said Daytona is one of the coolest. He also likes Bristol, Richmond, which is probably his favorite, and Talladega, where he has a lot of relatives.
    And though he’s constantly making new and exciting memories, Davis said he’s got plenty from his college days in Statesboro.
    “Georgia Southern was the best six years of my life,” he said.

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