Dodge announces major motorsports diversity program

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Dec. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Dodge today announced a landmark motorsports program aimed at providing career opportunities for minorities in one of the nation's most popular sports -- NASCAR racing. The first-of-its-kind...

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Dec. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Dodge today announced a landmark motorsports program aimed at providing career opportunities for minorities in one of the nation's most popular sports -- NASCAR racing.

The first-of-its-kind program creates a development process for enhancing the racing careers of both minority drivers and racing technicians.

"Dodge and DaimlerChrysler have both stood for providing opportunities to qualified employees," said Jim Julow, Vice President, Dodge Global Brand Center. "With the momentum and support of Dodge's return to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR's commitment to enhancing minority participation in their series, we feel this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it."

Dodge officials and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) team owner Bobby Hamilton welcome well-known African-American driver Willy T. Ribbs to the Dodge Motorsports family.

As part of the diversity initiative, Dodge will serve as primary sponsor of the Hamilton-owned No. 4 Dodge Ram NASCAR Craftsman Truck that Ribbs will drive in the 2001 NCTS season.

"The program provides a natural progression for talent," added Julow. "Willy T. is a real winner, and we're proud to be associated with him. It's our hope that Willy will prove to be a success in this and future seasons, and that he in turn will meet the challenges that will allow him to step up to the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series, and subsequently to his ultimate goal of racing in NASCAR's premiere circuit, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series."

Ribbs, who has found considerable success in other North American racing series, relishes the new challenge of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

"To be involved in a factory-backed effort with Dodge is the sort of thing that drivers get into racing for," said Ribbs. "This is such a great opportunity for me to compete in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for a team as successful as Bobby Hamilton Racing. The series is very well publicized and generates a huge amount of media exposure. This is a series with good, tough drivers where winning the championship is something that is not easily accomplished, but very well respected.

"When this deal started coming together and I found out that Joe Ruttman would be my teammate I thought it was just about the greatest thing," added Ribbs. "Joe and I have been friends for several years and I feel like we will be able to bounce ideas off each other and he will be able to help me make the transition a successful one into the series. And having a successful NASCAR Winston Cup driver like Bobby Hamilton as a team owner is nothing but awesome. When you have a race driver as an owner the feedback is fabulous. The synergy with this entire race team and Dodge Motorsports is already incredible and I only expect it to get better."

Bobby Hamilton, whose nine poles, four wins and sixth-place championship standing were tops among Dodge teams last year, sees the addition of Ribbs as an opportunity to further enhance his team's competitiveness.

"Getting the opportunity to house a second factory-backed Dodge team was a real benefit for this Bobby Hamilton Racing Team," said Hamilton. "With the No. 18 team we have made use of all the technology and engineers at Dodge to make our race team as successful as possible. And with a second factory effort we will continue to use all of the resources that Dodge has available to its teams. This high-profile opportunity will also allow Bobby Hamilton Racing to gain notoriety as a successful racing organization and that is really something that I have been wanting to do with this race team. That is probably why, when Dodge brought this offer to me, I only had to think about it for ten seconds before accepting."

To enhance the opportunities of African Americans seeking to enter NASCAR racing as crew members for leading Dodge NASCAR teams, Dodge will help fund a scholarship program that will provide important training in the racing field and seek graduate placement within the Dodge Motorsports family.

"Willy T. Ribbs is seen as an inspiration for many aspiring African- American drivers," said NASCAR Vice President Brian France. "This Dodge program not only embraces NASCAR's diversity goals, but sets the standard that others may follow."

The Dodge Motorsports diversity program ultimately could expand to include other forms of racing in which the company participates, including road racing and drag racing.

Ribbs was selected from among a number of candidates, who were evaluated for eligibility based on guidelines including actual racing experience, background, and character.

"When we tested Willy at Nashville Speedway, we realized that there was not going to be much of a learning curve involved because he already has a lot of speedway experience," added Hamilton. "Joe Ruttman and Willy have also known each other for several years, making the communication between my two drivers that much more open. When we had Joe and Willy at the test together they were talking about the setup and jumping in and out of the truck. I just can't believe how many hurdles we have already overcome in this program."

As the second element in the diversity announcement, the Dodge Motorsports Scholarship program gives aspiring minority team members a hands-on, NASCAR- based racing technology education, while providing financial support and ultimately career placement with a Dodge Motorsports race team. During the initial phase of training the students participate in a nine month program, with a curriculum tailored to giving them a thorough understanding in general automotive theory and practice. Coursework can be completed at any one of the five Universal Technical Institute (UTI) campus locations including Phoenix; Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; Glendale Heights, Ill.; Orlando; and Houston. Universal Technical Institute is the only technical school in the nation that is officially licensed by NASCAR.

Upon receiving their diploma, program participants enroll in a specialized six-week, NASCAR-specific elective program is currently offered only at UTI's Houston campus. The program provides students an intensive NASCAR curriculum, including the sport's history, rules and regulations, engine building and development and chassis theory.

When the NASCAR Technical Institute (NASCAR Tech) opens in Charlotte, N.C., in 2002, a scholarship recipient may alternately elect to complete their studies there, in place of an existing UTI campus. The course schedule at NTI will offer students a 13-month program, which will include the basic nine- month general automotive training program currently available at UTI, along with a more comprehensive four-month NASCAR-specific course. NASCAR studies include chassis fabrication, paint and body, engine building and integration of hands-on race team programs.

Candidate selection for as many as four students annually is set to begin immediately.

A program to consider opportunities for minority team owners is also under consideration.

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Joe Ruttman , Willy T. Ribbs