Aw, man, now those Duke kids are invading NASCAR, too

Jay Busbee
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If you're a college basketball fan -- check that, if you're a true college basketball fan -- you hate Duke. Yeah, yeah, they're all successful and have all the championships and play the game the right way and all that, but you know what? I still can't stand 'em, as I wrote here a few years back. They're the Jimmie Johnson of college basketball. And now they're coming to NASCAR.

All right, that's not really fair, judging Paulie Harraka -- a Duke junior set to make his Nationwide debut this weekend in Montreal -- by the loathsome standards of Christian Laettner, Mike Krzyzewski, J.J. Redick et al. Harraka, who'll be running the No. 87 Chevy for NEMCO Motorsports, is one of the most notable products of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, and he's one of 10 drivers who will be in a new racing reality show called "Changing Lanes."

The Drive for Diversity program dates to 2004, and -- as its name implies -- seeks to bring in minorities and women to run with the predominantly white American fellas on the track. And while the program is yet to produce a Sprint Cup-level driver, Harraka -- who is of Syrian descent -- is a grand hope. Mark Davis, an African-American driver who came up through the diversity program, is running in the Nationwide series. And with any luck, these drivers won't be forever defined (or judged) by the color of their skin, but by the content of their wheelin' skills.

And Harraka has skills to spare. A go-karter as a kid, he won 13 national championships and six world championships in go-karts. Former Charlotte Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler put him in a Legends car in 2005, and he won his first race at the speedway. Soon after, he began juggling classwork at Duke and racing in NASCAR's Whelen All-American Series -- which, by the way, forced him to fly from Carolina to California for five of the first six weekends after he began college. That, friends, is dedication.

Harraka currently sits third in the K&N Pro Series East standings, and Joe Nemechek plucked him out of the series to run this weekend in Montreal. For the moment, it's his only guaranteed race at the level.

All right, so, I guess we gotta wish the Dukie good luck. He's certainly earned his shot. But just to make myself feel better, I leave you with this ...

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Ah. Much better.