For most of his life, Marc Davis has been a young man in a hurry - in more ways than one. He has blazed through motorsports’ many and varied levels since he started racing BMX bicycles at the age of 6.
Now a grizzled 18, he is again shifting into a higher gear.
Davis, who grew up in Silver Spring and Mitchellville, will drive the No. 18 car for the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team in his first Nationwide Series race Saturday, the Kroger On Track for the Cure 250 near Memphis, Tenn. The Nationwide circuit is the rough equivalent of Class AAA baseball, one level below the pinnacle, the Sprint Cup.
Davis is the youngest driver in the race - he’s the youngest in NASCAR’s top three circuits - and the only black driver.
“I just want to go out there and stay out of trouble,” he said. “I just want to have fun.”
Davis’ father, Harry, has been with him literally each mile of the way.
“Most every driver dreams of driving in the Daytona 500, and this is one of the steps to get there,” Harry Davis said. “Of course, he has a long way to go. This is the beginning of another process.
“There’s no real rush, but we also want to take advantage of the skills he has and the opportunity he has. Since he’s been training 12 years, it seems like the time is now.”
Davis joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005 as a member of its diversity program (NASCAR also has a program) that was started by Gibbs and Reggie White, the late NFL Hall of Famer, to develop young minority drivers.
That was a start. The rest was up to Davis.
“He won a lot of smaller racing series where you had to show some talent,” Gibbs said. “The good thing about racing is you can’t make it up. You can’t con somebody. You actually have to go out and race and prove yourself. You can either race cars or you can’t. Marc has been very, very competitive.”
Coincidentally, Gibbs and Harry Davis go back a long way. A former cameraman at WRC-TV (Channel 4), Harry Davis worked a lot in sports. He was there at the start of “The George Michael Sports Machine” and shot Redskins games and Gibbs’ weekly show during his first term as coach.
Back then, Harry Davis said, the show was taped at old Redskin Park in a maintenance shed that had to be cleared of tractors and other equipment. Through Michael, Gibbs kept up with both Harry and Marc Davis.
“Joe used to tell George, ‘Tell that guy not to let his kid get into racing.’ We did it anyway,” Harry Davis said.
Harry Davis has been the engine behind his son’s quest, traveling hundreds of thousands of miles to races, spending and raising upward of $2 million, locating sponsors (one is WHUR, the Howard University radio station) and providing guidance and motivation.
Now retired, he decided a couple of years ago that he and his son should leave Maryland for the Charlotte, N.C., area, the center of the NASCAR universe. Marc Davis, who left Blake High School during his sophomore year, frequently returns to his former turf to visit his old friends and his mother, Jannette Adkins.
Davis said he had what he considers a “normal” childhood. He played basketball and soccer, “but getting on the racetrack is what I always wanted to do.” He is now taking college courses online.
“It’s a lifestyle,” Harry Davis said. “My job has never been to choose what Marc wants to do. My job is to listen to him and find out the best thing to do, whether we can afford it, what he can do to the best of his abilities.”
It’s been a huge sacrifice, financially and otherwise.
“But if you can’t do it for your kids, hey, who can you do it for?” Harry Davis said.
Although a black driver, Chase Austin, drove in last year’s event, NASCAR is an overwhelmingly white sport in terms of participants and fan base. Harry Davis knows the implications of what his son represents. On one hand, he said he wants to downplay race “because I want to protect him from the microscope as much as I can.” On the other hand, he knows that won’t be possible if his son makes it big.
“What Marc represents is new dollars and bringing a new interest to the sport,” he said. “Being an African-American didn’t get him into that seat. Being African-American won’t keep him in that seat. If you look at Marc, you know he’s black. And we take pride in that, and we want him to be a role model for kids.
“But it’s not one thing. It’s the whole package. It’s being in NASCAR as an African-American. It’s being with Joe Gibbs.”
Gibbs said Davis might one day represent a “breakthrough.”
But the young man who’s always in a hurry downplayed the historic nature.
“I’m just a race car driver,” he said.