2024 Dirt Late Model Dream at Eldora Speedway

How Did Jonathan Davenport Become An Eldora Speedway Wizard?

How Did Jonathan Davenport Become An Eldora Speedway Wizard?

Jonathan Davenport has mastered Eldora Speedway with his third Dirt Late Model Dream victory and 10th major event win at The Big E.

Jun 9, 2024 by Kevin Kovac

ROSSBURG, Ohio — Jonathan Davenport was just trying to point out a hard truth about Eldora Speedway. The problem? His statement didn’t seem to apply to him.

As the 40-year-old superstar from Blairsville, Ga., sat behind a desk in Eldora’s media center taking questions from the press following his flag-to-flag victory in Saturday night’s 100-lap Dream XXX finale, he matter-of-factly said: “It’s so hard to win here.” But was that really the case considering the historic rate at which Davenport collects checkered flags at the famed half-mile oval?

The two drivers flanking Davenport — runner-up Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., and third-place finisher Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga. — saw the irony in his words judging by the smiles that creased their lips. And DirtonDirt.com founder and FloRacing general manager Michael Rigsby, who emceed the press conference, interjected that Davenport’s wild success at Eldora over the past decade made winning there appear almost … easy.

At that, Davenport paused for a moment, acknowledging how his comment could be perceived. He had, after all, just won the Dream and its $100,030 prize for the second straight year and third time overall and reached double-figures in major-event triumphs at Eldora, including his five World 100 victories and wins in the 2021 Eldora Million and 2020’s Covid-year Intercontinental Classic.

“So the numbers say,” Davenport said, that winning at Eldora isn’t difficult for him, but he nevertheless insisted that “in my mind, in my heart, like, it’s so hard to win here. It truly is.”

And no matter how often Davenport has reached Eldora’s winner’s stage since his breakthrough in the 2015 Dream, he’s right. Victory at the most well known track in Dirt Late Model racing should never be taken lightly. It’s always a supreme accomplishment, a testament to a driver’s talent, a team’s relentless toil and the vagaries of fortune coming together in just the right combination.

Davenport simply happens to be melding it all into a winning Eldora stew better than anyone else alive right now.

“It just fits me,” Davenport said of the legendary track founded by the late Earl Baltes and now owned by former NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. “You gotta think through the whole race. Like I’ve said it before, this race is like a chess game. You can’t just go out there and just run wide-open and expect to be there at the end. It starts on prelim night with qualifying, heat races, and just steadily dialing your car in. 

“I’ve become, like, really good I guess at telling my crew what I need for here. I’ve got a good feel for where the racetrack’s gonna move and when it’s gonna move, for just watching lap times. It’s just experience. That’s all it is.”


VIDEO: DLM Dream podium finishers Jonathan Davenport, Bobby Pierce and Brandon Overton answer questions from the media. 

Davenport has cultivated such an aura of superiority at Eldora that even his greatest rivals place him on a pedestal. So it was with Pierce, the 27-year-old star and 2016 World 100 winner who feared a Davenport victory some 24 hours before it happened.

“When the lineups (for Saturday’s heats) came out last night (and) he was in the sixth heat race starting fourth, I was like, ‘Well, J.D.’s starting on the pole (of the feature). We’re done,’” Pierce said, noting that a win in the sixth heat results in a driver leading the Dream to the green flag.

Pierce remarked after his ninth-to-second march in the century grind — his second consecutive podium finish in the Dream following a third-place run last year — that he had nothing for Davenport but wished he could have at least drawn within sight of the winner so he could be schooled in the finer points of negotiating the Big E.

“I would’ve really loved to have gotten behind him and kind of followed him for a little bit and kind of learned some stuff, because he’s very good at knowing what the car needs and applying that to the crew guys to make a good car for him,” said Pierce, who only reached second place with a lap-99 pass of Overton and finished 5.696 seconds behind Davenport. “I followed him at the Million, but that was back (driving) the Pierce (Chassis) car, so it’d kind of be nice to get that chance again to kind of follow (now running a Longhorn).”

Overton, 33, has an Eldora pedigree that’s spectacular as well (three Dream victories and one World 100 triumph since 2021) and he ran second behind Davenport for laps 16-98, but he bowed to the victor’s strength.

“Maybe the first 30, 40 laps, when I kind of got into second, I thought, maybe,” Overton said. “I got behind him, watched him a little bit. I was like, ‘All right, let’s see if he messes up or if he moves and I can sneak by him.’ But once we got into the lapped traffic, before he even caught it, I started feeling like … when you’re out front, everything feels good, but when you start catching people, that’s when you see what you got. And as soon as we caught that first round of lapped cars I think I had a hell of a time getting around (Shane) Clanton and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna have to use the whole racetrack. If it starts cleaning up in some spots, it’s gonna be unbalanced, you know what I mean?’

“That’s what he’s got figured out,” he added, pointing out a key to Davenport’s Eldora success. “It ain’t one thing. It ain’t he’s got more traction, or he’s got more sidebite. It’s a balance. You know how to get it, and when you hit on it, he wins.”

Pierce’s father and crew chief, Hall of Fame driver Bob Pierce, offered a simple analysis of what makes Davenport so prolific at Eldora.

“He’s comfortable,” Bob Pierce said while visiting Davenport’s pit after the race to offer his congratulations. “He’s just dead comfortable here, and when you’re comfortable and confident, it’s tough to beat somebody.

“You can see he’s comfortable when he gets here. You can see it. There’s certain places that fit you, so you get in here and feel good about it, and unless something stupid goes wrong, it’s hard to beat a guy like that. He’s got ‘er down.

“And he’s good, there can’t be no doubt about it,” the elder Piece added. “He’s damn good.”

Davenport heard Bob Pierce’s assessment and readily agreed with it. His comfort level at Eldora has actually increased over the past three years as he’s reserved the same 2021-vintage Longhorn Chassis for use only at the track since he drove it to victory in the second of 2021’s double World 100s.

“I keep saying it over and over, but that’s really what helps me here,” Davenport said of the car in his Double L Motorsports stable that’s pushing $1.5 million in career earnings and he’s taken to calling “Eldora.” “I gotta think, like, you only get to come here for the Dream one time a year, the World one time a year, and you could so easily be taken out … just like I said, it starts on prelim night. Something could happen there. So many things can take you out of it, so then you lose that year. And then you come back the next year, well, then you’re almost a year behind in the 100-lapper of setup notes, things like that. So it can definitely snowball bad very easy, as good as it’s been snowballing good for me.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to come back with the same car the past three years now. I’ve got a notebook for lap times, for tire choices, for everything with that car, so it ain’t like I’m doing it to another chassis. Even though they’re built the same, I’ve just been fortunate enough to do it over and over again.”

Davenport was completely in tune with his trusty machine throughout Saturday’s headliner. He was never seriously challenged en route to becoming just the third driver in Dream history — and first since Zebulon, Ga.’s Shane Clanton in 2012 — to lead the entire distance.

“Nothing’s never easy, but, I’ve had a whole lot more challenging wins here than that,” Davenport said, which drew laughs from both Pierce and Overton. “The first 75 (laps) was really, really good. The last 25 I felt like I could probably have been a little better in traffic, but I guess I was good enough the first 75 to give me a good enough lead to where I didn’t have to worry about it.”

While Davenport admitted he “still can’t believe that I can come back and win again” year after year, he enters every Eldora weekend with just that mindset.

“I just know what it takes to win here,” Davenport said. “Everything’s gotta be perfect here and I just know that I like this place, I have a good feel for it, and I know this is where I can make my money for the year, you know what I mean? Some of the other places it’s pretty much a crapshoot — it’s how you draw, who you got in your heat race. But here, it’s just different. There’s so many stipulations, so many obstacles you gotta overcome.

“I just know this weekend means more to me because I know I can win more here in two races than I can all season. It can be career-changing. It can be life-changing. A $10,000 win is great, but a $100,000 win … it’s a lot better.”

Davenport has won so often at Eldora that now the only driver he trails on the track’s all-time crown jewel win list is Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., whose 12 major triumphs includes a record eight Dreams and four World 100s. Bloomquist’s victories were spread over a 31-year period from 1988-2019, however, while Davenport has made his assault on the Eldora record book over only a decade.

There’s no doubt that Davenport has cemented his legacy as an all-time great at Eldora. He truly ranks right up there with GOATs like Bloomquist and Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. (eight Eldora crown jewel wins), which is a tough reality for both J.D. and his wife, Rachel, to grasp.

“I never thought I’d be here,” said Davenport, who made his Eldora debut at the 2006 Dream (he didn’t qualify) and has since compiled 15 Dream and 11 World 100 feature starts.

“That’s so weird to think about,” Rachel Davenport said when reminded of her husband’s lofty status.

Davenport’s Eldora prowess has in fact become so pronounced that fans might be growing weary of his success, as evidenced by the noticeable boos he heard interspersed with his cheers during Saturday’s driver introductions. He’s fine with the catcalls, though, because that’s a sign of just how great he is at the track.

“I love it. That’s fine. That means I’m doing my job,” Davenport said. “It used to be Bobby (Pierce) getting booed all the time, but now it’s me. That’s alright. Everybody wants a new winner every now and then, but as long as I can, I’m gonna keep receiving those boos.”