While the trio of Cup drivers atop the newly revised point standings, including Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, battle it out for this year’s NASCAR championship, three new, young drivers, Marc Davis, Johanna Long and Chase Elliott, are well on their way to becoming the sport’s newest talent triumvirate.
These three upstarts are taking the sport by storm, each excelling in various racing series throughout the country this weekend. With their skills and talents, as well as their family ties, they may just become NASCAR’s newest talent trio, poised to take the next step up the racing ladder.
Marc Davis, son of the late Harry Davis, will be making his Nationwide debut this weekend at the Monster Mile in Dover, Delaware. Davis, at age 20, will return to the track with R3 Motorsports and will pilot the No. 23 WHUR 96.3 FM sponsored Chevrolet.
This past year has been a tumultuous one for Davis. The death of his father not only hit him hard personally, but he also inherited the management of his family’s race team, now named Marc Davis Motorsports.
“It’s been an interesting year so far,” Davis said with some sadness in his voice. “This is what my dad and I worked for; to achieve my dream of having a successful and competitive NASCAR career.”
Davis, a former Joe Gibbs Racing development driver, has most recently been behind the wheel in the inaugural Free State 500 in South Africa. He competed in that American Speed Association Race in January, scoring a top five finish as he took the checkered flag in the third position.
When his father passed away, Davis was thrust from the driver’s seat into the command position with the race team that now bears his name, becoming one of the youngest team owners in the sport. Davis also is one of the few minority team owners, a mantle that he wears proudly, serving as a role model for others of diverse backgrounds in racing.
The young driver caught the eye of R3 Motorsports team owner Robert Richardson, Sr. after a previous good run at Dover International Speedway. While other drivers, including Coleman Pressley, Alex Kennedy and Johnny Sauter, have driven the No. 23, Richardson knew that Davis was the driver for the final Nationwide race at Dover this year.
“We saw how well Marc has done at Dover in the past,” Richardson said. “When this opportunity came up, we knew it would be good for everyone.”
Davis acknowledges that Dover has been a good track for him, running the 2007 and 2008 East Series races there. “It’s a good place for us,” Davis said. “It suits my driving style a lot. I’m pretty confident that we’ll have a good run.”
While Davis is thrilled to return to the track, he will no doubt do so with a heavy heart. But the young man also feels that he will be driving the challenging concrete track with an angel on his shoulder.
“Every race this year has been dedicated to him,” Davis said of his father. “I know that he’d be proud of what we’re doing now.”
Another up and coming driver, Chase Elliott, has family that is proud of him as well, namely his father Bill Elliott and his late grandfather George Elliott. Chase, the 14 year old son of ‘Awesome’ Bill, ran this past weekend at Gresham Motorsports Park, a track that his grandfather helped run, and led every lap of the 100 lap George Elliott Memorial.
While Chase Elliott never got to experience his grandfather’s racing passion firsthand as he was only three years old when his Papa George passed away, he knew of the stories his father told him, particularly of his grandfather’s devotion to the Ford brand.
“I just remember Papa George’s strong conviction for being a Ford Driver,” Elliott said. “And there was one special little red airplane that he gave me that the propeller would crank up and spin.”
The race was also special for Chase’s father Bill, who had once worked at that race track selling hot dogs and tickets. That was also the site of Bill Elliott’s first major stock car win in the mid-1970’s when he was making his own way up the NASCAR ladder.
“It was a special evening for me because Daddy’s sister Ethel and his first cousin Thelma were able to come,” Bill Elliott said. “They were able to see Chase race and win for the first time.”
Chase Elliott, now part of the Red Bull team family, has been taking the south by storm, following in the footsteps of his father. He had a top five finish at Bristol and won at the first race of the newly re-opened North Wilkesboro track. Elliott will next compete in the championship finale this weekend at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
The final member of the up and coming NASCAR triumvirate is Johanna Long, an 18 year old racer who has just announced that she will be dipping her toes more deeply into the Truck Series waters. Long plans to run at the Truck race this weekend with a new team, Panhandle Motorsports, making its debut at Las Vegas this weekend.
Although Long has four starts in the Truck Series, three with Billy Ballew Motorsports, this will be her inaugural run with her new family team and her first time ever foray into the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Long has two top 20 finishes in her Truck career so far and is hoping to continue learning more and gaining valuable seat time.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know the track at Las Vegas,” Long said. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to run with my family’s team, but our ultimate goal is to have the track performance over time to become a driver for another competitive team. Every race I enter, I learn, but I also get a chance to hone my skills to keep moving forward with my driving.”
Long also has a long racing resume, tearing up the track in late models and serving as the youngest and first woman to claim the Pro Late Model title at Five Flags Speedway, taking that honor at the tender age of 15. With 19 starts so far in 2010 in various series, she has scored five top-five finishes and ten top-10 finishes.
Just like Davis and Elliott, Long has also followed in her family’s racing footsteps. In her case, she has modeled her career after her father Donald, who raced with great success in the All Pro Series in the southeast.
While these three racers have strong family ties in common, the tie that binds them most as they compete in various venues this weekend is their desire to learn so they can continue to hone their crafts and move forward in their racing careers.
Johanna Long sums it up best. “I have a lot to learn,” Long said. “Every step that you go up, you have to learn a lot more. I’m just going to go out there and do the best I can and learn as much as I can.”
With that learning attitude at the forefront, all three drivers, Davis, Elliott and Long, will no doubt continue their climb up the racing career ladder. These drivers’ ultimate hopes, however, will be to become NASCAR’s next talent triumvirate, ultimately competing for the sport’s highest honor, the Cup championship.