Allison Duncan has been named as the most recent driver in the NASCAR 'Drive for Diversity' programme, and will run the full 2004 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina in the #94 BH Motorsports Miller Lite Chevrolet team owned by Tinsley Hughes.

Hughes, an African-American owner, specifically asked for Duncan, and would like to take her all the way to Nextel Cup.

Duncan, grew up with racing in her backyard at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. When she was nine, dad took her to the first NASCAR race at what was then known as Sears Point Raceway, and she was hooked. Duncan started racing as soon as she could, beginning with club racing, and ran Sports Car Club of America and NASA series, winning a championship with each in her first year. Father Bob, an Irish auto mechanic and amateur racer, was - and remains - her biggest fan. During her amateur racing career, the now 23-year old Duncan has had a variety of sponsors, including some of her fellow (male) drivers who were so impressed with her talent they wanted her to continue to race with them.

While still in college, Duncan moved from club to professional racing, starting with the Women's Global GT Series, winning one race, taking two pole positions and setting a lap record at Road Atlanta.

Duncan was a college senior going through exams when she ran her first Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona appearance, but she finished sixth overall in a privateer Dodge Viper, among a field of more than 100 cars. She was fifth in the GTS class. Duncan was the youngest female driver ever to run the Rolex, the highest overall female finisher in the history of the race, and the top privateer finisher behind the two ORECA factory Vipers, the two factory Corvettes and a prototype. It was also the fastest car Duncan had ever raced, at more than 190mph - before that, the fastest she had ever driven was 130mph.

But Duncan had her heart set on stock car racing so, after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from California Polytechnic Institute, she packed up and moved to south to pursue her goal. Working as a driving instructor for the BMW School of High Performance Driving, Duncan started racing short tracks. Last season, she ran the Late Model Series at Hickory Motor Speedway, winning the rookie championship and placing seventh overall.

In 2001, Duncan was one of six female drivers out of more than 100 female drivers invited to test in a Dodge Motorsports Racing programme. She tested several times with the Jimmy Smith Ultra Racing Craftsman Truck team, making it to the short list, but Dodge opted not to pursue the plan to run a five-year development programme, which would started with Winston West and moving up the NASCAR ladder.

In 2002, Duncan was invited to be part of, not one, but two different and entirely separate panels for seminars held at the Society of Automotive Engineers Motorsports Engineering Conference in Indianapolis. She was one of several women on the Women in Motorsports Panel, as well as being one of the presenters at an Engine and Transmission seminar.

This past January, Duncan was one of twelve drivers invited to participate in a special 'Diversity' test at HMS, unofficially turning the fastest and most consistent time. Driving was but one of the several evaluations in which she participated, and Duncan garnered the most media attention including the front page of the New York Times sports section. This ride is the result of that test.

The LMS season has already begun, and the team is just getting all the pieces in place. The first race was run in the just-purchased, untested back-up car. The second race was in the untested primary car. The team hasn't yet had time for testing. Last week's race was rained out, but Duncan has an eighth and tenth place finish so far, and she is the only female driver.

The 'Drive for Diversity' programme is for developing minority driver and crew members. The NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series has races at more than 70 short tracks around the country in eight different geographic regions. Each regional champion is ranked and the driver with the best record becomes the national champion.

Duncan's next race is this weekend at Hickory Motor Speedway, along with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.