When North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams called Brad Daugherty recently about playing in a charity golf tournament, the retired center was in his customary retirement routine – on the way to the racetrack.
The coach who recruited Daugherty 25 years ago couldn’t help but ask the obvious, wondering why a 7-foot college All-American and NBA All-Star would spend so much time around stock cars.
Daugherty’s answer left the coach speechless: “Coach, that basketball thing cost me 10 years off my racing career.”
Daugherty is a racer who played basketball. Still revered as one of the greatest players in Tar Heels history, Daugherty is more at home in a garage area talking about suspension parts and horsepower. He’s a towering presence in NASCAR, nearly a foot taller than everyone else.
And yet, he’s never been more at home.
“My racing days go back to the early 80s,” Daugherty said. “I’ve been around for a while. Racing has always been my first love.”
Daugherty is a co-owner of the No. 47 Toyota driven by Bobby Labonte and he’s a former co-owner of other Nationwide and Camping World series teams. He also works as a commentator for ESPN’s coverage of Sprint Cup and Nationwide broadcasts.
Other professional athletes have dabbled in NASCAR in the past, but none had the patience, financial and otherwise, to last. Joe Washington, Dan Marino, Terrance Mathis, Mark McGwire, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Julius Erving, Florence Griffith Joyner and Troy Aikman have all come and gone from the sport as owners. Daugherty plans to be around for years to come.
“Most of the time when I’m talking to guys in the garage area, they look at me as a guy who’s been a professional athlete,” Daugherty said. “That’s what they understand: First and foremost he was a professional athlete; he understands what it’s about, to deal with the media, to deal with schedules, to deal what it takes to be your best every day and how difficult that is. That’s fine. There’s some truth to that.
“But the reality is I’m a racer. A lot of guys are shocked to understand what I know about race cars.”
When he’s not at a NASCAR race, he’s behind the wheel of a late model car. Although his commitment at ESPN keeps him on the road most of the year, he spends open weekends racing at one of the local short tracks near his home in Asheville, N.C. He’s already won two of his five National Auto Sport Association starts this year.
“Brad really has a racing mentality,” said Tad Geschickter, who along with his wife, Jody Geschickter, makes up the ownership group at JTG Daugherty Racing. “He comes from a team sport background and that’s what racing is really all about. He brings a lot to this race team. He’s family.”
Daugherty enjoyed one Nationwide Series victory with longtime friend Robert Pressley in a 1989 and three more wins at Watkins Glen International with Marcos Ambrose.
He’s still waiting on his first win in Sprint Cup. And if that victory comes while he’s in the television booth, he won’t hide his emotions.
“I root for my car. If anybody has a problem with that, that’s their problem,” he said.
There are two things that still spark passion in North Carolina: college basketball and auto racing. Daugherty is one of the few who’s experienced both.