NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series 'Insiders' React To Drive For Diversity News DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 20, 2004) -- As NASCAR officially announced its new diversity initiatives Thursday, the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series took center stage as the host ...
NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series 'Insiders' React To Drive For Diversity News
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 20, 2004) -- As NASCAR officially announced its new diversity initiatives Thursday, the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series took center stage as the host series for the inaugural Drive for Diversity program. This initiative, run by Charlotte, N.C.-based Access Marketing and Communications, seeks to identify and select minority and women drivers and crew members to compete in NASCAR-sanctioned races, as well as support their efforts through corporate sponsorships.
During Thursday's press conference at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C., the motorsports community was introduced to the participating teams, tracks and drivers of this landmark program, which includes five drivers participating at NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series tracks in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
"Both of my facilities are excited to have the opportunity to serve as host tracks for this initiative," said track operator Joe Mattioli III, who runs South Boston (Va.) Speedway and Music City Motorplex in Nashville, two tracks where Drive for Diversity participants will compete this season. At Music City Motorplex, Joe Henderson drives in the Late Model Stock Car division with sponsorship from Kodak and at South Boston, Bruce Driver competes in the Late Model Stock Car division with a Centrix Financial / MBNA-sponsored entry.
Mattioli also pointed to the unique history in South Boston and Nashville as he reflected on Thursday's news.
"The fact that Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver to win a race in what is now known as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, called South Boston his hometown track makes it especially exciting for us," said Mattioli. "The fact that Joe Henderson's father worked with Wendell Scott makes the loop complete. We are excited with this great first step and hope that it continues, not only at this level, but at the elementary school level, so that children can start living the dream very early."
Basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson was also introduced as the co-chairman to the newly-created NASCAR Executive Steering Committee for Diversity. In this role, Johnson will help complete selection of the Executive Steering Committee for Diversity, assist NASCAR with creating grassroots programs such as Drive for Diversity, help NASCAR develop marketing programs that will increase the sport's visibility in urban communities and serve as an advisor to NASCAR Chief Operating Officer George Pyne.
"My heart is into this," said Johnson. "It's not something that I'm getting paid to do. I wanted to do it, and I'm happy to do it because I think that this sport is so wonderful, that I think all minorities, once we educate them on it, will want to be a part of it.
"I like that speed, so I want to take that speed to our communities and let them know. One thing that I really like is that you don't have just a few superstars. Every driver is a superstar. I like that. In the NBA, only a few get to be on that level. But here, I mean, every weekend somebody else can win. I think that's exciting. I think once minorities get a real taste of NASCAR, they'll be coming up and support it."
Reigning NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series national champion Mark McFarland, who now competes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, says the Drive for Diversity program should open doors for these participating drivers.
"Racing in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series will give these drivers a good experience," said McFarland, a native of Winchester, Va. "It's a good stepping-stone to get into the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series or the NASCAR Busch Series. I'd recommend the Dodge Weekly Series to anyone. They should be able to learn a lot. It's great for NASCAR to chip and do what they've done for these drivers."
In addition to supporting the drivers' efforts, the Drive for Diversity program has also helped several minority crew members gain positions with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams. McFarland's own No. 59 Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Dodge / HT Motorsports team includes two crew members who are participating in the Drive for Diversity program: Calvin Gravely and Tommy Lane.
At historic Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, where the first "combine" was held to select drivers for the Drive for Diversity program, Allison Duncan will compete in the track's Late Model Stock Car division with sponsorship from Sunoco and Miller Brewing Company. Hickory Motor Speedway Marketing and Promotions Director Sherry Clifton said her staff is looking forward to seeing the program succeed.
"We're very proud to be included in the Drive for Diversity program," said Clifton. "The demographics of our area, as well as the entire country, are changing and it's nice to see a reflection of that in our sport."
Additional initiatives in which NASCAR has taken a leadership role include: activation of a supplier diversity program; creation of the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program; funding for scholarships to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions; support of the NASCAR College Tour presented by The Coca-Cola Company; support of civil rights organizations; and support of the Urban Youth Racing School, which is based in Philadelphia, and provides inner-city youths with the opportunity to learn about motorsports.
With NASCAR's ethnic fan base consistently growing over the last seven years, NASCAR is the fastest-growing sport among African-Americans and Hispanics, according to independent research. Approximately 25 percent of NASCAR fans today are people of color, according to an ESPN/Chilton poll (2002). African American fans have increased 18 % -- approximately 2 million people -- since 1995. Hispanic fans have increased 38 % -- approximately 3 million people -- since 1996.
The 2004 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series will be contested at 67 of North America's best short track facilities, with thousands of hometown drivers competing for short track racing's most prestigious prize -- the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series championship -- along with a share of the $1.7 million NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series point fund.