God Bless Katie Davis

God Bless Katie Davis
Katie Davis (Studio 92 photo)
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
by Eric Arnold, Track Historian

There are many things that make Knoxville Raceway great. One of the grandest of traditions is the singing of the National Anthem by hometown girl Katie Davis. Katie caught the ear of race director Ralph Capitani after singing at Knoxville high school basketball games in the winter, when she was in high school. Cappy invited Katie to sing at the races the next summer and to also make a recording on tape that the track could use. That tape recording of Katie was used too many nights to count in the 80’s and early 90’s. For the past 30 years we have heard that beautiful voice sing to begin several race nights at Knoxville Raceway, yet if Katie walked through the crowd at Knoxville most people wouldn’t recognize her. We are truly blessed to have Katie Davis sing for us at Knoxville. I thought it was time to meet her in person and learn a little bit about this talented lady.

Eric: You sing the anthem so well, you obviously take a great deal of pride in singing it.
Katie: It’s a good song, but a hard song to sing… you have to do it right, so I like to do it right.

EA: How long have you been singing at Knoxville Raceway?
Katie: Are you going to laugh?
EA: No, no, no… I am 40 and you have been singing here since I was a kid.
Katie: I have been singing on and off for 30 years, since 1983 or 1984. It all started when Ralph Capitani had me make a tape when I was a junior in high school and he thought I could sing the national anthem. So my choir director and I made a tape.

EA: I can remember Tim Trier as the track announcer and he would say here is Katie Lane (maiden name), live on tape, then he would push a button and out came your voice!
Katie: Yeah! It was fun! When Ralph retired that was a big deal. Brian (Stickel) and I we have worked together, and coached together, and he said you should sing, and I said sure if you need me, and apparently they needed me.
EA: Everyone needs and wants you here! You help make this place so special. If we make it halfway into the season and you haven’t been here to sing the anthem yet, I start to hear people asking, where is Katie Davis? So you are needed, trust me! Even drivers like Brian Brown ask when you are going to sing.
Katie: Brian Brown is a big supporter. I work at Casey’s in the summer when I don’t teach and he brings us T-shirts and stuff to wear and he is very supportive.

EA: So Katie Davis is a school teacher?
Katie: Yes, I have been teaching fourth grade for 10 years now in Knoxville. Before that I was working in Pella for a behavior disorders program with kids that were troubled, and then I took some time off to have kids. In 2004 I got a full time teaching job and then I started a guitar group to teach kids guitar for free and it’s worked really well. So this will be my tenth year for that. Anyone can come Thursday’s after school to learn guitar and then we perform in the spring, and sometimes at Christmas time. Most of the kids that have been in guitar group have gone on to do great things. Once you get that performance bug in your system, to get up and sing in front of people, it’s the best thing ever. It helps the students in every aspect and a lot of the kids are doing well that way. It’s my favorite thing, better than being in the classroom.

EA: Did you ever consider teaching music full time?
Katie: When I was in college I thought, should I be a Spanish minor or a music minor? And I decided to do a reading and coaching minor instead. But looking back I should have done a music minor. But you know I can interject music into my classroom all the time and not be a music teacher. We sing all of the time in my classroom. In the morning we sing about math, or we sing about reading, we sing about whatever, and I teach them patriotism through music. Why not? I mean that’s what the one room school teachers did, so why not do it if the kids like it? And they do like it. It helps them learn. So you don’t have to be a music teacher to teach music, especially at the elementary level. So you either teach or you sing, oh wait, or do both!

EA: Have you ever sang professionally?
Katie: Yes. I have sang in a couple of bands called Retro Juke Box and Full Circle. And since I was 16 I have sang at funerals and weddings. If people need me, they call me, and I go do it. It’s fun, especially funerals. If people call me I try to do that, because that’s a good thing. You know, what can you do for people if they just lost someone? So I sing for them, and it’s a gift. My boss is OK with that at school, he tells me to go, people need me, and they cover for me so I can do that.

EA: Wow. That is really cool. It takes a special person to be able to perform at funerals.
Katie: That is my favorite thing to do. If I could sing at funerals and weddings for full time, I would do it. It’s comforting for people, and you have to be there for people.

EA: What made you decide to add part of God Bless America to the intro of the anthem?
Katie: The answer is a bit strange. As I often do I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. I said you know what, I really like the song God Bless America. I think that’s a better national anthem. So how can I mix that with the national anthem and segue that together? So I tried it one night, and nobody said anything. So I just kept doing it! (Laughs) And then I heard Faith Hill do something similar at the Super Bowl and she did a whole big thing of it later. And some others have done it since then. So I thought, you know, people have figured it out. The anthem is a good song, but a difficult song. But America the Beautiful and God Bless America, those songs say a lot, sometimes more to the common man. Those songs to me, if you could blend them and do one song… that is better. I thought who is going to stop it? And it was an idea in the middle of the night, so why not try it.

EA: Do you have a favorite driver?
Katie: Yes, but I have much admiration for many. I always liked Skip Jackson, he was my favorite driver, and a good man, but he doesn’t drive anymore. Brian Brown is a good man also. He has energy and a positive attitude, and the drive. He is good. The man (Schatz) who has won it the past few years, he is good too. He is dedicated, he is kick ass, why wouldn’t you like him, right? Doug Wolfgang when I was growing up in the 80’s looking back at him, WOW! Look at the Kinser family, WOW! Look at what they have all invested, why not celebrate it! They all have so much talent. And if they like it that I sing and we can all work together to make a good show, then that is good.

EA: Do you like to stay to watch the races after you sing?
Katie: Frequently during Nationals I do, in fact this past Nationals I did and I saw him (Brian) get second place again and I’m so sorry for that, but it was still amazing! I was there with my daughter and it was wonderful to watch. So yes, I enjoy watching. Do I come every Saturday? No. But I listen on the radio and if they need me, I come.

EA: You mentioned a daughter, how many children do you have?
Katie: I have five. The youngest is in eighth grade and another is a junior in high school. My older three are away now. One is at the University of Iowa going into medicine, another in Waterloo who is studying to be a dental hygienist, and my oldest is an accountant and works in Oskaloosa. I have a very good life with my husband, and good kids that we are proud of.

EA: Did you grow up in Knoxville?
Katie: Yes. Knoxville is a good place. My husband grew up here also and so did both of our parents. This is home. I have seen many changes here. This race track becomes bigger and bigger. When you see what the plans are to expound this facility and improve it, that is a good thing. And to make it nice for people... It’s all about bringing more people in and making it user friendly. And when you look at all of those cars out there in the pits… on the track… it’s beautiful.

EA: Well said. This place is beautiful. And it is my favorite place on Earth and you just gave me goose bumps for the first time when you weren’t singing!
Katie: (Laughs)

EA: Singing the anthem and patriotism seems to have deep meaning for you, do you happen to have family members in the military?
Katie: Yes I do. My father spent his career in the Army and is now retired. And I have a brother who has made a career in the military also with the Air Force in the Special Forces. He has been on several combat missions and is very involved with the military. So I feel very patriotic and I teach my children that at school. It is important to remember and to celebrate why we’re here. Every Veteran’s Day that we get a chance to, I like to take my class to sing to Veterans. When you perform for people who really need something, it changes them. And when the Veterans come up and say thank you, that is special. And we take our guitar group to that as well. I teach patriotism from day one because it’s not talked about enough, so in the fourth grade we do it!

EA: How hard is it to sing the anthems for other countries? I believe you have sang Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Katie: Yes I have. What I do is I go online and I listen to the way several people have done it and then I pick one that I like, that I think is meaningful, that has feeling. I try to do it like that because that is what people want when they hear it. They don’t want someone that messes with it, they want the meaning of the words. The Canadian anthem is so beautiful, it makes me cry when I hear it if it is done right. The New Zealand and Australia anthems are nice also. You have to have your heart in it, make it hang, make it full, and you have to think about it when you sing. It’s like you’re putting frosting on a cake, it has to be smooth… but full.

EA: Have you heard of the comparison to you and Jim Nabors that sings Back Home Again in Indiana at the Indy 500 every year?
Katie: I heard it this year for the first time! (Laughing) I was sitting in my car waiting to come in one night and I heard it mentioned on the radio and I have not heard Jim Nabors sing at Indy, but I thought wow, what a compliment, because Jim Nabors has a wonderful voice.

EA: Do you understand how beloved you are by fans and the racing community?
Katie: You know, I’m just a plain common person, a teacher. When I come out to sing, it is about what I can give to them. And if they say way to go, or give me a high five, that is OK. (Smiles) We are all in this together for Knoxville.

Katie Davis has a special place in Knoxville Raceway history. She is such a beloved and respected performer who never disappoints. She is personable, very funny, modest, and maybe a little naive about her place in the hearts of Knoxville Raceway fans and her legacy. God blessed us with the talents of Katie Davis and may God Bless America, our home sweet home.