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Brad Daugherty’s first love wasn’t basketball — it was auto racing

Brad Daugherty

Brad Daugherty

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Brad Daugherty is probably one of the few people who can get away with telling Michael Jordan, of all people, that his NBA team stinks.

“I told him, ‘You guys are terrible,’ ” Daugherty said of the Charlotte Bobcats, owned by Jordan. “But I see what he’s trying to do, and it takes time. He’s really focused and driven and very stubborn, and he believes in things.”

Daugherty and Jordan go way back. They played at North Carolina and met regularly during the NBA season when Daugherty was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In fact, one of the most notable moments in Bulls history involved Jordan and Daugherty’s Cavs.

Jordan hit “The Shot” over the Cavs’ Craig Ehlo to win the decisive Game 5 in the 1989 first-round series. Daugherty’s basketball career ended five years later, and Jordan went on to, well, being Michael Jordan.

“Watching Michael, I knew what he was capable of, and that was the biggest thing,” Daugherty said. “He scored 63 on us one night in Cleveland, and I thought he had only 25 because it was so easy how he was [scoring].

“And he had so many big, clutch shots that that’s what becomes remarkable.”

But these days, Daugherty seems far removed from basketball and is known for something else.

Daugherty was at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet over the weekend, providing analysis for ESPN for the STP 300 Nationwide race.

A guy like Daugherty, who towers over everyone he meets, gets asked one question more than most: What’s the No. 1 pick in the 1986 NBA draft doing at the racetrack, and what could he possibly know about motorsports?

Answer: He knows a lot, and Daugherty has more of an auto-racing background than you think.

Daugherty’s auto-racing story starts in Black Mountain, N.C.

“Our claim to fame was Billy Graham, Roberta Flack and myself,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty’s father raced cars at a short track about eight miles from their house, and Daugherty started working on cars at a young age. The biggest sport in that region of North Carolina was auto racing.

“We’d build small cars and take them to the track,” Daugherty said. “Racing was the other sport we had in our community and in our lives. I got better at basketball, but I always loved racing.”

So Daugherty’s first love wasn’t basketball. He said he didn’t “fall in love” with basketball until he was a sophomore at North Carolina, playing alongside Jordan and under coach Dean Smith.

Daugherty still was playing with the Cavs when he became a race team owner in 1988. He put together a Busch series team (in the days before it was the Nationwide series), and it won in its fourth race, at Orange County Speedway.

Then Daugherty moved into the Camping World Truck Series and hired drivers Kenny Irwin Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

That team has morphed into JTG Daugherty Racing, which has a car in the Sprint Cup Series, Bobby Labonte’s No. 47 Toyota Camry. Daugherty also is on NASCAR’s rules and competitions committee.

“I knew I needed to do [television analysis] for a lot of reasons,” Daugherty said. “If I didn’t accept the opportunity, being an African-American male, then there might not be an opportunity for someone else like me to do it.”

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