Tom Bowles
Friday March 20th, 2009

On a weekend where the NCAA Basketball Tournament yearns for Cinderella, Bristol lets NASCAR's underdogs dare to dream. The "back to basics" short track in Thunder Valley takes drivers back to their stock car roots, where no amount of engineering excellence can trump driving talent.

And that allows for an opening where a special father and son can pursue their own version of racing's glass slipper.

Eighteen-year-old Marc Davis and his father, Harry, will look to make their 2009 stock car debut at this track, working together on a self-owned No. 36 Toyota. Yes, you read that correctly; while most teenagers are busy getting ready for prom, this one's busy drumming up marketing and sponsorship dollars to compete in NASCAR's Nationwide Series -- just a step below Sprint Cup. Starting from scratch in an era where the family-owned team is going out of style, Marc and his dad look to buck the trend in hopes passion will propel performance.

Adding intrigue to the story is the fact that Marc just isn't any rookie; he's African-American. A one-time product of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, he's the first such graduate to be in position to make a major breakthrough in one of the sport's top divisions -- at a time when NASCAR is desperate to prove they're branching out.

"I'm there to support his dream in whatever area he needs," says a proud father about his son, who's made a slow but steady progression from go-karts to late models to stock cars since beginning to race as a kindergartener. "I'm proud and pleased that Marc's been able to stay focused after he made a decision of what his goals were at such an early age."

But keeping that focus lately hasn't been easy in the midst of a story that's taken a roller coaster twist. As a prized catch of Joe Gibbs Racing's Driver Development program, Marc Davis was one of the privileged, running in the Camping World East Series for two years in top-level equipment. Appearing on the same track as JGR's Cup Series rookie Joey Logano, a promotion from the minors to the majors looked to be just a step away. Indeed, Marc's Nationwide debut last October showed potential; at Memphis, he qualified 4th only to suffer a flat and finish in the mid-20s. It seemed a no-brainer JGR would continue to make a place for him; but then, the economy tanked and so did their funding. Suddenly, Marc had a difficult decision to make: hope Gibbs one day found the sponsorship to put him in a competitive ride, or make the decision to do that on his own.

For both father and son, the choice was easy.

"I feel like if you want to do your own deal, this is definitely the year to do it because the budgets aren't as high as they have been in the past [with the economy]," Marc said. "Even teams like JGR have cut back this year. So, why not build your own team [without relying on anyone else] and know you have the resources and people around you?"

"We know exactly what resources are available to us and we know exactly what the limitations and what the challenges are," adds Harry. "It is almost an impossible dream to go where we want to go; however, sometimes it's better to don't know what you're not supposed to know. So, you have no fear."

"I'm there to support [my son's] dream in whatever area he needs."

And so, the duo took the ownership plunge. They tapped the Venturini family, ARCA veterans, to help them build a team with what little money they had on hand. Maintaining their solid relationship with Gibbs, the Davises secured cars, engines, and chassis support while finding funding from Howard University radio station 96.5. Now they're set to do battle after skipping the first four races of the season to prepare.

"The first thing you have to do is set realistic goals and not outrageous expectations of what's really possible," said Harry. "Our biggest challenge right now is just to get into the race. The second expectation is to finish. At Bristol, just finishing the race is a major accomplishment."

But it'll be hard to temper expectations in the face of media attention about his race. It's a reality both men understand, but a burden both refuse to let define their underdog attempt to establish themselves.

"If people want to put that pressure on me, than that's fine," Marc said. "But at the end of the day, I'm a race car driver. I'm going out there to win and be competitive. And if I keep the door open for more minorities after me, that's fine, but I expect to go out and do what I do best every weekend."

"It isn't about that kind of stuff, the diversity issue," adds Harry. "This is about accomplishing a goal. And the accomplishment is already there in that Marc is eligible and certified to make a start at NASCAR's upper levels. There's always going to be some kind of pressure just because it's a competitive sport, and if you think about it, what color you are or whatever barrier or set of circumstances you come from just to get to be one of the 43, it's truly in itself an impossible dream [just to make it to this point]."

That love for his son translates into a love for racing that both hope will carry them through the difficulties of running a limited schedule with the funding they have in place. Forced to qualify on speed each time they get to the track, the team will also suffer from a loss of data and consistency from not being there regularly. Still, it was a necessary sacrifice in order to increase their level of competition.

"It was either run five races and be really good, or run ten races and be alright," Marc says of a strategy to pick and choose, putting maximum money into the races they do choose to run. "If we're going to go and just ride around, I don't want to go. I'm going to win and be competitive every race [we enter]."

Whether that goal will be realized is yet to be seen, although the Davises believe they have a car capable of a top 15 finish at most events. And their ambitiousness doesn't stop in the Nationwide Series. Should Marc succeed, there's a four-race Cup schedule planned later in the year (Davis' debut would be at Infineon in June and include stops at Watkins Glen, Dover, and Kansas in September). But even if he struggles a bit off the bat, there's a clear indication this family is in it for the long haul -- and they are in it together.

"Since I was six years old, my dad and I would be working on the car after school when he would get off work," Marc says. "There's never a moment where you come in by yourself at this level. I'm definitely fortunate to have him there to help me out."

"The goal has always been to go out on the weekends and have fun," adds Harry. "And the day it stops being fun is the day we stop racing. So, if Marc's having a good time, it's what we love to do because the only reason to be in this sport is you have the passion to race, and you love the sport and you love NASCAR and you love the people you associate with."

With that type of attitude heading in, there's a good chance Cinderella might find her glass slipper yet.

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