Commentary

Marc and Harry Davis making an impression in their steady rise to Cup level

You don't know Harry Davis, but you will. As father to rising star Marc Davis, Mr. Davis will impact NASCAR in ways like never before, writes Ed Hinton.

Updated: September 24, 2008, 7:17 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

Harry and Marc DavisHowie Hodge/NASCARHarry Davis, right, says he has raised close to $2 million to fund the racing career of son Marc.

For years I have written that Rick Hendrick is the embodiment of all that NASCAR aspires to be. Now comes another man of whom I can say the same.

You don't know him yet. His name is Harry Davis.

He will impact NASCAR differently than Hendrick, but just as profoundly. He brings a sense of fairness and understanding that will make NASCAR far better.

If his son, Marc Davis, 18, becomes a star at the Cup level -- and he is rising relentlessly toward that goal -- NASCAR will get its first African-American star, with all the additional audience, mainstream public attention and vast new revenues that will follow.

But what is more, NASCAR will get Harry Davis.

Until you look deeper, he would appear to be another in the growing succession of NASCAR dads who have sacrificed terribly to help their sons into the big time.

What sets Harry and Marc Davis apart from all the other fathers and sons before them is that even before Marc is assured of big money, they are already giving back.

Marc Davis Motorsports, managed by Harry, fields cars in various developmental series for younger drivers -- not necessarily minority drivers. In fact, of the organization's six drivers, four are white (including one female) and two are black.

[+] EnlargeMarc Davis
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMarc Davis, a developmental driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, will make his Nationwide Series debut Oct. 25 in Memphis.

Harry Davis is adamant that being able to race is not about race. It's about finding the money, getting the opportunity and having the total commitment.

"I absolutely have to practice what I preach," he says. In selecting drivers, he interviews their entire families to make sure the total commitment is there. "It's not about race. It's about who has the family support system."

What possessed Harry Davis to give back so much so early in Marc's career?

"The philosophy is, if you get a break, you've got to reach back and help somebody else get a break," says Harry.

Says Marc, "That's really what Marc Davis Motorsports is all about. I know I wouldn't be where I am right now without breaks and opportunities from other people who have helped me out."

Marc remains a developmental driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, and will make his Nationwide Series debut at Memphis on Oct. 25.

He made his Truck debut for Randy Moss Racing at St. Louis on Sept. 6, qualifying 12th and finishing 16th on what he approached totally as a learning race. The plan is for him to drive three more Truck races for Moss this fall, at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.

Driving for JGR in the developmental Camping World series, Marc led last Friday's race at Dover until he was passed late by Aric Almirola, a driver with considerable Cup and Nationwide experience who was dropping down to the lower level for more seat time. Marc finished second.

But in getting experience on big tracks, the Davises are doing it on their own, with their own ARCA team and their own sponsor, Howard University-affiliated radio station WHUR. Marc finished eighth at 2.5-mile Pocono in August to qualify for bigger tracks, and plans to run the ARCA race at Talladega on Oct. 3.

Just to get to this stage has taken mammoth commitment and massive sacrifice from a career NBC News cameraman, who, not many years ago, living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., had no interest at all in automobile racing.

"It was never our intention to pursue a NASCAR dream," says Harry. "But what does any parent do? They try to help their kids in whatever directions they want to go.

"I probably would have preferred for him to be a lawyer or a doctor. That would have been easier."

And cheaper. Harry figures he has spent more than $2 million, when you count family money, sponsorships the Davises were able to raise, and help in kind.

When Marc was 6, Harry took him to race BMX bicycles, and at 8 Marc raced quarter-midget cars and then Bandoleros, a kids' class of miniature full-bodied cars.

This whole diversity issue -- I don't know what's real and what's not real. I just know that for Marc and me, it's never been about race. It's always been about passion.

-- Harry Davis

"Our sole purpose was to go out on weekends and have fun," Harry says. "It was not until he was 10 years old, and walked into Victory Lane at Lowe's Motor Speedway, that he said, 'Man, I think I like this.' You're in a stadium two or three times the size of a football stadium, with four times the seating, and you're the center of attention because you're a race car driver and you do it well."

From there the commitment was total -- driving all night from Maryland down to Charlotte or Atlanta, and all night home.

Eventually Harry would take early retirement from NBC to work relentlessly on his son's racing career. He would learn every nook and cranny of the workings of NASCAR, piece by piece, from the ground up.

He would follow every rule, meet every requirement (witness Marc's graduation to bigger and bigger tracks through the Davises' independent ARCA effort). No one could ever say the Davises didn't pay their dues.

They moved to the NASCAR epicenter of North Carolina, where there remains some residue of the old racist culture of the South.

When Marc was 16, racing Late Models at a short track at Hickory, N.C., he got into a bumper-slamming match for a win -- fully in keeping with NASCAR protocol -- with a white teenager. Some of the crowd chanted "[N-----], go home!"

The Davises let it go, moved on. "It had nothing to do with racing," Harry says. "It's a cultural thing, that's all."

He figures the incident was born not so much of racism as general frustration with NASCAR's massive changes. And he understands.

"The traditional, Southern NASCAR fan feels alienated and left behind," Harry says. "NASCAR is opening the markets to generate new revenue and new fans, so the traditional Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama fan feels he's getting left out …

"What they grew up with, what they developed, what they love, is being diluted because now they have to share it with America.

"The cheap-shot way would be to say, 'Well, that's racist.' But that's not really racist. … They're hurting."

Sometimes you get the sense Harry Davis feels more of the traditional fan's pain than Brian France himself does.

When you talk with Davis, you understand what he wants -- which is no different from what other NASCAR dads before him wanted.

"This whole diversity issue -- I don't know what's real and what's not real," he says. "I just know that for Marc and me, it's never been about race. It's always been about passion."

This man relates to you, the most tradition-steeped of NASCAR fans. He relates to every father who has done without a lot of things to develop a racer.

"My sacrifice is no greater than anybody else's," he says. "We've all done it, and we'd do it again."

When you know him, you will relate to him, completely.

And that may be the most important thing to happen to the NASCAR culture in a long time, if not ever.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.