Driving a 1977 Corvette 140 m.p.h. around a racetrack might not be a typical senior project. But for Hun School graduate Sophia Davis ’18, NASCAR is in her blood, so it was a perfect fit.
“My grandpa is a racecar driver, and I’ve been going to races since I was 3 years old,” says Sophie, whose family owns several car dealerships. “The rush you feel there, it is so loud and the bleachers are buzzing underneath you. It’s great. It’s my favorite sport.”
Propelled by her passion, Sophie set out to research NASCAR (The National Association for Stock Car Racing) and to experience driving the track herself for her Senior Capstone project. Sophie, who heads to Syracuse University in the fall, would like to work in the sports or music field eventually, so her project fit that bill.
“I wanted a glimpse of what it would be like to be involved in the whole NASCAR scene,” she said. She enlisted, not surprisingly, the help of her grandfather, David Davis, who lives in Daytona Beach. A longtime racing fan and driver who started their family’s car business, he owns several vintage race cars. He intentionally retired to Daytona, where NASCAR began in 1948. (Daytona’s famous track was built in 1959.) Sophie visited her grandfather and shadowed NASCAR historian Buzz McKim to learn about the sport.
While in Daytona, David Davis taught her to drive a stick-shift (most racecars have manual shift transmissions) in his classic 1972 VW Thing. “He drove with me around the neighborhood a few times, and then I was on my own,” Sophie said. Next, Sophie headed to the nearby New Smyrna, Florida, half-mile track, where she drove both her grandfather’s antique 1937 Ford, a stick shift; and his 1977 Corvette, an automatic.
She drove on the track for over three hours, hitting speeds up to 140 m.p.h.
“I was so scared before I started driving,” she recalled. “But as soon as I left the pit, I was fine. It’s a really cool feeling, so exhilarating! Your heart is beating so fast. When you are in the car, you really have to pay attention, giving it your full focus every minute.”
“I learned a lot about cars. I discovered what it’s like to go that fast, the need for a helmet, and how to drive a stick shift,” she reflected. She also learned that NASCAR is in a bit of a slump, with its average fan clocking in at 65 years old. That’s a marketing problem that she might like to help with down the road.
“There’s a drive for diversity in NASCAR,” she noted, with the sport looking for new female, minority, and younger drivers who can bring new fans to the track. Sophie’s not likely to be one of those new drivers, but she may want to take part behind the scenes. In the meantime, she plans to enjoy her new hobby.
“My grandpa said whenever I visit him, I can drive on the speedway,” she said. Now that’s an offer that’s hard to refuse.
Senior Capstone at The Hun School
All Hun School seniors participate in a self-directed Capstone Experience, a two-week experiential learning project that can include an internship, an exploratory trip, or a build phase. Well in advance of their senior spring, students select a field or topic of interest and submit a proposal to the Capstone Committee. Working with an advisor and outside mentor, they participate in the experience and then present their Capstones to Hun School students and faculty.