Seventeen-year-old Marc Davis is just like other kids his age. He plays videogames, likes to horse around with his friends, and takes driving lessons. But it's just that the car he drives is not exactly your father's Oldsmobile.
That's because Davis happens to be one of NASCAR's latest racing prodigies, whose early success and enormous potential are drawing comparisons to that other African-American phenom who blazed a trail in a historically white sport.
"I've been referred to as the Tiger Woods of NASCAR," said Davis. "But I don't like to think that because with racing, there's more than one person involved like there is in golf."
While Davis downplays such comparisons, NASCAR is hoping that Davis will have the same effect on racing that Woods has had on golf and the Williams sisters have had on tennis, drawing fans who don't traditionally follow those sports.
The only black driver to win a top flight NASCAR race was Wendell Scott, but that was 44 years ago. Since then few, such as Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester, have broken through the ranks and none with any consistent success. But now, racing insiders say Davis is the real deal.
Davis drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, whose owner is head coach of the Washington Redskins. Gibbs is no stranger to grooming pioneers. Under his watch, Doug Williams became the first Black quarterback to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Now Gibbs hopes to find a winning formula with the Maryland native. But since Gibbs is still prowling the sidelines on the gridiron, he has delegated most of the day-to-day operations to his son, J.D., who is quick to praise young Davis.
"As far as drivers, it's hard. It takes a lot of time. A big investment. And you have to have the skill. There's no -- either you're good or you're not. We think Marc really is good," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Davis, for his part, is grateful to be a member of one of NASCAR's blue-chip teams, whose stable of drivers includes Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. When the last school bell rings at Mooresville Christian Academy, Davis heads over to the nearby Joe Gibbs shop in Huntersville, N.C., for his daily workout.
"This is the middle of my second year at Joe Gibbs Racing and they've invested a whole lot of money in me and if they just wanted a minority driver, they'd be wasting money," said Davis.
This fresh-faced youngster is actually a veteran of the racing circuit. Davis started competing at a young age -- racing BMX bikes when he was six. He graduated from bicycles to quarter-midgets at age 8, and then moved onto Junior Dragsters in the National Hot Rod Association. He now competes in the Grand National division, NASCAR's premier developmental series, alongside teammate and fellow top prospect Joey Logano.
NASCAR has sponsored various initiatives in recent years to broaden its already huge fan-base. Three years ago, NASCAR began its Drive for Diversity program to help develop minority and female drivers and crew members in the hopes that increased diversity on the speedway would result in more diversity in the stands. But despite NASCAR's recent gains in shaking off its good ole boy image, Davis and his father, Harry, have endured some tough times around the track.
"There's racial tension in everything. It's in NASCAR. It's in short track. It's in local tracks. We've experienced things that we should only have read in history books," said Harry Davis.
But both father and son know that once the green flag is waved, color takes a backseat.
"There is no white NASCAR. There is no black NASCAR. It's just NASCAR. There are 43 seats. They'll take the 43 fastest drivers no matter what color they are," said Harry Davis.
And while young Davis likes to joke around with teammates off the track, once he buckles in, he is all business. He hopes to ride bumper-to-bumper with Nextel superstars like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in just a few years.
"I just go out there and have fun like I have been doing but if I can open the door for more minorities behind me -- that's great," said Davis. "I just have to get there and open the door and keep it open."
John Berman and Suzanne Yeo contributed to this report.