Retired Miss Madison driver Steve David (above, middle) hams it up with 2013 Miss Teen Madison Regatta Karrington True (left) and 2013 Miss Madison Regatta Hayley Franklin during Friday’s party at The Boneyard Grill. Sponsor Larry Oberto gives David a hug (above) and David signs an autograph for Steve Manaugh (below) and other fans. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
Retired Miss Madison driver Steve David (above, middle) hams it up with 2013 Miss Teen Madison Regatta Karrington True (left) and 2013 Miss Madison Regatta Hayley Franklin during Friday’s party at The Boneyard Grill. Sponsor Larry Oberto gives David a hug (above) and David signs an autograph for Steve Manaugh (below) and other fans. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
One by one, citizen-owners and fans stood up to tell Steve David "thank you" for his 13-year driving career with the Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison. Some talked about his kindness, others his boyish charm. Some even laughed about his mischievous side.

Not a single person mentioned one of his wins.

Such will be the legacy of Steve David's driving career. Although the south Florida native - by way of southern Ohio - won 18 races in his career, for those that followed him, it will be David's personality that will linger in their memory the most.

"From the first moment I met you I was struck by your kindness toward others, even others from another country," said Madison native Katie Wildman, who has spent the last five years living in Doha, Qatar, and flew in to be at the event. "I'm proud to say that you are from my hometown."

David announced his retirement from a 25-year driving career in September and on Friday, the team gave the 13,000 citizen-owners of the Miss Madison a chance to say good-bye at a free event held at The Boneyard Grill in Madison.

There were plenty of laughs and a few tears as David was honored by the team. He was presented a key to the City of Madison and was the subject of a 10-minute video that celebrated his career with the team.

Through it all, David smiled and soaked in the love and goodwill from a fan base that has seen every high and low in his 13-year driving career with the team.

"I got here about three hours early today and walked along the river and through downtown. This city has a soul that his palpable," David said. "But the thing about Madison is, it's more than the historic structures or the scenic few in the valley, it's the people. That's what makes this team so special to drive for. There hasn't been a single moment that stands out. It's every single moment that I have driven for this team that is my biggest memory."

The party was the brainchild of team manager Charlie Grooms, who also co-owns The Boneyard Grill. It was Grooms who coaxed David out of semi-retirement in 2001 to become the team's 19th driver and he never regretted the decision in 13 seasons.

When David announced that he was hanging it up, Grooms wanted to make sure that the team sent him out in style. With a packed house of well-wishers, it's safe to say that Grooms' plan succeeded.

"He probably brought everything we could ever have hoped we could have had with this team," Grooms said. "His skills were almost as impressive on the beach as on the water. He was the perfect guy to lead us and to challenge us. He taught us how to be champions."

While David sits sixth on the all-time wins list, it is his personality and ability to interact with fans that ranks highest. Smiling, affable and quick with a joke, David has been a fan favorite ever since he reached the Unlimited level in 1988.

But it was with the community-owned Miss Madison team that David's personality truly shined. Whether signing autographs, posing with fans or talking with the media, David became not only the representative for the Miss Madison team and sponsor Oh Boy! Oberto, but the city as well.

"From a sponsor's side, he's absolute perfection," said Larry Oberto. "He rarely, rarely, rarely misspeaks and when he does, it's always meaningful and to the point. You can't be against that. As a sponsor, you want a connection to the brand and a personal connection. Steve's able to do that as a human being on a human level. It's something I've never seen before."

Nearly every step he took during the three-hour event involved a hug or a photo. He signed autographs, shared laughs and smiled his ever-present smile. It was the Steve David that Madisonians have come to expect from their driver.

"Whoever replaces you will have big shoes to fill," said longtime Madison Regatta volunteer Denny Lemm. "You are a truly a great man and we've all been blessed to have you as our driver."

The task of finding a replacement for David has already begun. While speculation has been rampant, the team is not yet ready to look ahead, preferring instead to concentrate on celebrating the past.

As for David, his future involves business and time with his family. The Lighthouse Point, Fla., resident has purchased a second home in the Florida keys and plans on spending time aboard his sailboat in the Bahamas and the Gulf of Mexico.

But David also said he will never forget the City of Madison and its citizens and the time he's spent driving the community's boat.

"I'll be in south Florida but I'll be watching from afar and I'll be the biggest Miss Madison cheerleader there is," David said. "I hope they win every race next year, I truly do, because that will mean that I got a chance to help build a foundation that led to that kind of success.

"I've felt honored to drive this boat for 13 years and to be a part of this town," David said. "I truly love this city with all my heart."