Asphalt Sabbatical Ends

Alberta’s Ryan Davenport has returned to the world of drag racing in 2012.   The talented son to Canadian engine builder and tuning “Guru” Les Davenport has taken over the reigns for one of the most reputed Nitro Nostalgia cars out there….

During the recent NHRA events held at Phoenix and Bakersfield, Davenport made his debut as the new driver for the highly potent Nostalgia Funny Car jointly owned by Bucky Austin and Mike O’Brien.  That marked the first time in drag racing competition for Ryan since the early 1990’s.   Don’t be fooled however, during that long “away” period Ryan was anything but idle – in fact he became a true innovator within the world of Olympic and World Championship Skeleton racing. 

Alberta's Ryan Davenport has returned to drag racing behind the wheel of the potent "Northwest Hitter" Nostaliga Funny Car

“I had not been active in drag racing for about 20 years,” Ryan explained.  “When I got out of the sport I immersed myself into designing and building skeletons.  I have earned my living and built my reputation with that specialized  equipment.”

To say that Ryan did well within that industry would be a rather vast understatement.  His sled designs have scored at the highest possible levels winning World Championships and at the Olympics.  He was the head coach for the U.S. team in the 2002 Olympics when they won both the men’s & women’s gold medals.  In 2006, as a sled builder, he won both Olympic gold medals again.  During the most recent 2010 olympics at Vancouver, he obtained yet another gold medal, again as a sled builder.  As an athlete, Davenport in fact won two World Championship gold medals — before he retired and started coaching within the sport.

“Needless to say that has been a rather dominating feature of my life over the last couple of decades,” he stated.

So why the shift back to drag racing?

“As you know my Dad has been involved with drag racing forever and he built himself a new front-motored A/FD last season,” Ryan continued.  “He invited me also to play with that and I licensed in that car during 2011.  But about half way through that process Bucky (Austin) called me and asked me to drive his Funny Car.”

Ryan Davenport

Fast forward to February 2012 and Ryan was at Las Vegas making his first runs in Bucky’s spectacular 1980 Plymouth Arrow bodied machine.  Then two weeks after that he found himself entered for the Nostalgia FC demonstration eliminator held during NHRA’s Arizona Nationals at Phoenix– a race-within-a-race — which he ended up winning.  

Davenport admitted that his comeback has been smoother then expected. 

“I have been surprisingly comfortable in the car,” Ryan added.  “I had never run in the 5-secs zone at 250 mph before and running nitro – that was all new to me.  But the adjustment was a lot easier then I thought.  A big part of that is of course that I am driving for a team with so much experience.  I am also coming into this with an open mind – and plan on having a lot of fun doing it.” 

Davenport did report  that he and the team will run a “pile” of races this season.  They will frequent all of the NHRA Heritage Series events and have scheduled at least of couple of Canadian event appearances at Mission BC and likely too the IHRA race at Edmonton.

Prior to his comeback this season, Ryan Davenport was best known for being a “killer” car within NHRA’s Competition eliminator in the AA/A category.  He and his Dad set the national record with a truly cutting edge car – running superchargers with gasoline in the class – something nobody was doing at the time.   Ryan drove a car chassis which Les had built originally for alcohol Funny Car racing back in 1977.

Ryan Davenport raced this highly innovative AA/A in earlier times. Car shown at Seattle in 1992

“We had to figure out the blown gas thing on our own,” reflected Ryan.  “That was difficult but eventually we wrote our own computer program for it and over time that evolved into a standard for blown alcohol racing.”

Ryan’s father Les continues to be one of the most respected tuners in all of drag racing.  His career credentials include some 21 NHRA national event wins with 13 different drivers in a variety of classes (Top Alcohol & Comp).   Les’s most recent significant win* as a tuner came at Indy last year when he guided fellow Calgarian Jirka Kaplan to the U.S. Nationals Competition eliminator title.

*Editors Note:  Les also won as a driver/tuner at Bakersfield in March – check that out:  HERE

For more information of Ryan’s Skeleton business visit: 

(Bruce Biegler Photos)