With no money to dangle in appearance fees or prizes, Scott Davis can’t give much but his gratitude to the 12,000 athletes who compete each year at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays.
“On Saturday and Sunday you can get an In-N-Out burger. Ain’t nothing wrong with that,” said Davis, the meet’s director since 1997.
That’s a powerful inducement. So is a chance to compete at charming Hilmer Lodge Stadium, which affords fine views of the action -- and of cows grazing on hills across the road.
But there’s extra motivation for high school kids, Olympians and everyone in between to make this a grand weekend in Walnut: It will be Davis’ finale as director.
Although he plans to stay on as an announcer, it won’t be the same without Davis defusing crises, soothing egos and tapping friendships to lure athletes such as 100-meter world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica.
“The Mount SAC Relays is Scott Davis. Without Scott, the relays would be just another meet,” said Powell’s agent, Paul Doyle.
Marion Jones ran there as a high school phenom and, with no reward but a hotel suite, returned as a five-time Olympic medalist. Carl Lewis competed more than a dozen times and his Santa Monica Track Club sent fearsome relays.
In 2004, when then-world-record holder Tim Montgomery and Olympic champion Maurice Greene entered separate 100-meter races, Davis coaxed them into one stellar field. Greene prevailed, one of their last encounters before Montgomery was taken down in the BALCO steroid scandal.
“If Scott had not done that, the race would not have happened,” said Emanuel Hudson, Greene’s agent and head of the Los Angeles-based HSI track club. “Scott got a race to happen that would have cost everybody else a lot of money.”
Powell is Sunday’s top draw, but Alan Webb plans to run the 800, Athens 200-meter silver medalist Allyson Felix is in the 400 and HSI’s large group includes a good 400-meter relay team.
“We don’t look at Mt. SAC as a place to go and make money. We look at it as a place to make an investment in the sport,” Hudson said. “Scott is a very good guy to deal with. Scott knows stats, and when you deal with someone who knows the event, that makes it a lot easier. You don’t have to sell them. They know.”
Davis’ devotion to track and field is rivaled only by his love for loud Hawaiian shirts, bad jokes and good wine. But he will soon be 64, and though he said he feels fine, he has beaten back two virulent forms of cancer in the last decade.
“So it’s time,” he said, “to sit down and play with my electric trains and my stamps.”
Not quite. He has a lot to do, a sense of purpose intensified by his illnesses.
Davis was treated for melanoma -- skin cancer -- in 1997 and underwent a stem cell transplant in 2004 to combat myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow. The melanoma treatment felt worse than the disease, and he made a bargain with God.
“I remember sitting there in the room, all by myself, saying, ‘If this is it, if this is the way You want to punish me for smoking a little dope in the ‘60s and maybe not doing everything just right, I accept this, but I don’t want to feel like this anymore,’ ” he said.
When he awoke the next day, the sun was shining and his doctor told him he had improved dramatically. “Maybe God did hear you and sort of said, ‘Not yet, big guy. Maybe not just yet,’ ” he said.
He’s not slowing down so much as shifting his energy to his deepest passions.
Davis is a mathematician by training, and he plans to teach a math class at Mt. SAC this fall. He also intends to continue announcing track meets around the world, sustaining his love for the sport and his curiosity about people and culture.
Blessed with a rich voice and a knack for informing while he entertains, Davis has called 26 NCAA meets, five U.S. Olympic trials and countless U.S. championships. He’s also the English-language voice at Grand Prix events in Japan. Closest to his heart, he has announced UCLA track meets for 25 years.
“That will probably be the last job I give up,” said Davis, a UCLA alum and Cerritos resident.
Freed of the daily work surrounding the relays, Davis plans to research a book about U.S. track and field performances from 1900 to 1920. That extends his work on the U.S. Track and Field Annual, a statistical goldmine for fans and officials, and other track-related books.
“Twenty years from now, 40 years, 200 years, people are going to owe a debt to Scott and people like him,” said Rich Perelman, a manager and director of track meets.
Bob Steiner, a renowned track announcer and public relations consultant to Jerry Buss and the Lakers, sees Davis’ exit as another blow to a sport that was once hugely popular here but has nearly vanished.
“People with that kind of interest were so numerous in Southern California but they’re just not there anymore,” Steiner said. “The younger generation is more founded on basketball and football. He’s one of the greats in the business. The event will miss him and the sport will miss him.”