The premiere of "Black Wheels" a documentary heralding the history of African American in motorsports was held at the National Press Club today. The film's producer Byron Hunter who was present to participate in a panel discussion told the audience that he produced the film to "inform everyone that blacks have a history in motorsports," from Charlie Wiggins in the 1920s to Bill Lester who currently competes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. "I didn't produce this film to educate black race fans, I did this to educate all race fans," Hunter continued.
While Todd Gould's 2003 film "For Gold and Glory" chronicled the struggle faced by early black racing drivers, "Black Wheels" celebrates of the history of blacks in motorsports. The film features Wiggins, Joie Ray, Wendell Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Lester.
"Black Wheels" was produced by New Millennium Studios of Petersburg, Virginia. New Millennium co-founder Tim Reid introduced the dignitaries and racers in attendance before quipping, "I can't believe these guys get paid to drive fast. The last time I drove fast, I had to pay." New Millennium's first feature film "Asunder" starring Blair Underwood, was directed and produced by Reid.
"Black Wheels" will be broadcast in markets nationwide throughout the summer with the first airing set for July 3 on WTTA, Tampa, Florida's WB affiliate. The film is already scheduled to be broadcast on stations in more than 60 markets, including Chicago and Dallas in July, as well as Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia in August. A full release schedule will be available on Motorsport.com as soon as it is finalized.
Following the film's premiere, a panel discussion hosted by National Public Radio's Ed Gordon featured members of NASCAR's "Drive for Diversity" program, including Sam Belnavis; Chief Diversity Office for Roush Racing, Greg Calhoun; CEO of Access Marketing and the co-founder of the "Drive for Diversity" program, racers Joe Henderson III and Bill Lester, Byron Hunter, Tish Sheets; NASCAR's Director of Diversity and Special Projects and Carlton Yearwood; Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Waste Management, Inc.
Sheets discussed NASCAR's three pronged approach to the "Drive for Diversity" program, including on and off track initiatives as well as business initiatives. With NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Bill Lester in attendance along with Joe Henderson III and Terri Williams the on track initiatives were clear, get more minorities involved in racing as drivers, crew members and officials. As an example of off track initiatives Sheets cited the recent "Welcome to Atlanta NASCAR Weekend" consisting of a concert and NASCAR related activities in downtown Atlanta prior to the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Atlanta program also included a cross-promotion at an Atlanta Hawks NBA basketball game featuring several NASACR drivers signing autographs. The same program will be conducted in Los Angeles in conjunction with the NASCAR weekend at California Speedway in Fontana.