Quick Stats: Shani Davis, Olympic champion speed skater
Daily Driver: 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Rating: 9 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Favorite road trip: Chicago to Marquette, Michigan
Car he learned to drive in: 1989 Ford Escort
First car bought: 2006 VW Rabbit
Sochi-bound U.S. speedskater Shani Davis is hoping to make history as the first man to win gold in the same event at three straight Winter Olympics.
The Chicagoan’s car of choice is his trusty 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which he rates a 9 out of 10 and drives to Wisconsin to train.
“I always wanted a Jeep. Since I was a kid,” he says. “When I was a kid, they stuck out because they were so square. The design, the geometry on them were really, really square. They rode a little above the ground. I thought, ‘Man, that really looks cool’ and I was always a fan of G.I. Joe and I think one of the ‘Transformers’ I liked was a Jeep and turned into a real kick-ass robot,” he says.
He spoke to Motor Trend from his Jeep during a recent 90-minute drive from Chicago to Milwaukee on I-94. “With Bluetooth, so I’m obeying the law, and it’s great -- you can’t beat it,” he says.
“I like the design. I like that it’s versatile on all terrains. I like that it’s a bigger car; it fits me well. I’m a tall person, so I can stretch out in,” says Davis, who is 6’ 2.” “It accommodates my friends, my family, it’s very reliable, and it’s American-made. It’s a Jeep, so it has a lot of history in it as well. It’s a great car.”
He bought the Jeep because it was also in his price range. “I’m not living out of my means. I can afford the car. I have dream cars obviously, but for my lifestyle and where I’m at right now, this is the perfect fit.”
His dream car is a white Porsche Panamera Turbo. “I have to be responsible with my money,” he says. “I still have to make sure I have money, so I can’t just buy an Aston Martin after I get a medal. If things aren’t really, really right, I can’t do it.”
Car he learned to drive in
Davis grew up in Chicago, where he took drivers ed as a student, but the first time he took his driver’s test, he didn’t make it out of the DMV parking lot. “I hit a car trying to get out and it was a big deal. You couldn’t retake it, you had to wait so many months. I had to go to training camp so I wasn’t going to be home, and I had to pay $600 insurance. It was really an awful mess, but I’m still here, still breathing!” he says.
Davis was in a hurry to get his license then because he was going to Colorado Springs to train for the Olympics. “Mom had a blue ’88 Volkswagen Golf, but that car was very touchy and too old for me to use, and I blew the clutch because I didn’t know how to drive a stick. It wouldn’t have worked, so we borrowed my friend’s car and failed.”
He was busy with his travels for speed skating and waited four years -- until he was 22 -- to take his second driver’s test. “I had other priorities. I messed it up, so I wasn’t in a hurry to drive or get a license because I didn’t have a car, so I figured I’d just wait till I get a car, then I’ll get the license.”
During those four years Davis did have to ask friends to give him rides when he wasn’t in Chicago.
“But when you live in remote places like Colorado Springs and Marquette, Michigan, and places like that they don’t have great public transportation, you don’t want to rely on your friends to take you to Walmart because you need laundry detergent to wash your smelly skin suit. You have to find another way,” he says.
He passed on the second try and his mom bought a 1989 Ford Escort hatchback, which he did most of his early driving on. “It was two-tone -- red, Pepto Bismol pink on the top, and dark red on the side. That was my first car and it was stick shift. It was very difficult learning how to drive a stick for your first car.”
His mom saw the car down the street from where they lived and bought it because he needed a car to get to training. She paid $800. “The reason why we got that car was it was in our price range at the time, so we weren’t overextending ourselves. The gas line and odometer broke on it right away. When we told the lady about it, that that was bad business, the car being in the shape it was in, she gave us back $400. We gave that car to my friend in 2010 after the 2010 Olympics. He sold the car for $400, so he got money off of the car as well,” he says. “So that’s amazing that a car that old can still sell for that.”
First car bought and 2006 Winter Olympics
After Davis won his first gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, in the 1000-meter event, and a silver medal in the 1500-meter event, he bought a blue 2006 Volkswagen Rabbit for $22,000.
“I paid the sticker price. I didn’t even try to negotiate it. We didn’t know any better,” he says. “It was right after the Olympics and I won, so I had a little bit of money and after 2010, I did well there at the Olympics, got the money and I upgraded the car and gave the blue car to my mom. When I had the blue car, she kept the Ford Escort and then when I bought my Jeep, I gave her the blue car and we gave my friend the Ford Escort.”
Davis’ mom still drives the Volkswagen. “She still has it. She takes great care of it; she loves it. It’s her favorite because when I was a kid, the first car I remember her buying was a VW Golf and it was stick shift and it was blue. So years later she got a newer version of the car,” he laughs. “That’s pretty funny. We like stick-shift cars. To me they’re more fun to drive.” But now, Davis’ Jeep is an automatic.
He had hoped for a free new GM car before the 2006 Olympics, but that never happened. “It was cool to be able to buy the car with my own money because there used to be programs that the USOC had. They gave away free cars to athletes they felt were worthy and I never got one of those vehicles through the GM program, Davis says. “I always thought it was bizarre, that I was up-and-coming, I worked really hard, I was considered grassroots, and GM had so many free cars to give away.”
Although the Volkswagen is his mom’s car now, Davis still drives it. “They’re great, they’re fuel-efficient, they’re really good for city driving,” he says. “The thing I didn’t quite like about it was, I’m a bigger guy, so it wasn’t the best car I should’ve bought with the money. But I think my mom really liked Volkswagen, so she wanted me to get her the car knowing that somewhere down the road I would replace that and give that car to her. I wanted a white Rabbit, she said, ‘Oh no, blue, blue, is way better!’ All right, fine, blue it is. I still want a white car to this day. I haven’t had one yet but eventually maybe someday I’ll get one.”
He says when he bought the Jeep, white somehow didn’t suit that car. “I felt like it would be better to be charcoal grey,” he says. “I could have gotten the white, but I figured that white’s more for a luxury car, but a car for training and moving around a bit, I don’t think white is good for that car.”
Favorite road trip
When he has the time on weekends, Davis enjoys road tripping to Marquette, Michigan, where he graduated from Northern Michigan University. “It’s a really beautiful place,” he says. “I just love being on the road and the fall, before the winter, you see all the foliage and you drive up there. It’s real peaceful, it’s real scenic. I don’t really like driving that much, like long trips. It’s hard for me but I’m getting better at it.”
The drive takes him about six hours from Milwaukee and eight hours from Chicago. “I just like getting up there. It’s like returning home, it’s my second home,” he says. “A lot of good memories. I just really enjoy making that ride. I would go there to train and I have a friend who owns a restaurant there and makes the best Thai food.”
With his favorite dishes on his mind on the drive there, Davis’ first stop when he gets to Marquette is the Rice Paddy. “She makes a plum chicken that’s really good and a chicken shrimp and cheese and crab rangoon,” he says.
Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics
Growing up in Chicago, Davis used to go roller skating with his mom as a kid. “I always loved the speed of skating and I used to do it on roller skates at first and the people that taught me how to roller skate said to try speed skating,” he says. “Years later, my mom had a boss who had a son that did speed skating at a high level. He recommended it as well and when I was 6 years old, I tried speed skating and I never looked back. I always loved it, since the first day I put [speed skates] on my feet.”
Davis had to commute to the suburbs to speed skate, but it was a small price to pay for something he thoroughly enjoyed. Even when he started he had goals.
“It was simply just to skate fast and as I got older, people said I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t deserve to have the things I had. I’ve always wanted to prove them wrong and eventually I wanted to win a gold medal, but it was only because people were doubting me and not supporting me the way I felt they should have,” he says.
Photo: NBC Olympics / USOC
Photo: NBC Olympics / USOC
Photo: NBC Olympics / USOC
He says he wanted to give back to the people who believed and supported him from the beginning, “to show them, ‘Thank you for believing in me and giving me this chance and opportunity,’” he says. “I didn’t want to waste their efforts investing in me, so that motivated me to win a gold medal. But when I was kid, I simply just wanted to skate fast and have fun. Same goals as today, skate fast, have fun. That’s all I really want to do, even today.”
In 2013 Davis got a coveted Ralph Lauren sponsorship. He remains modest about breaking any color barriers, such as being the first African-American to win a gold medal at an individual sport in the Winter Olympics, preferring to focus on the work.
“I don’t like when we mention a lot of things about color, because for me that’s not really that important,” he says. “There’s not a lot of black people trying to speed skate to begin with. Not many black people really care to do a lot of winter sports in general.”
Davis’ obvious goal for Sochi is to bring back gold for a third time, which would make Olympic history.
“I’m going to aim as high as I can,” he says. “I’m going to shoot for the stars and try to come away with a piece or two of it. Everybody at this level, they want to win, so clearly I want to win and the best man wins. If it’s me, that’s great and that’s all I can hope for. That’s all I can do.”
You can follow his road to Sochi at www.NBCOlympics.com and www.TeamUSA.org and www.shanidavis.org.