NASCAR’s efforts to diversify a sport steeped in history

ROANOKE, Va. – NASCAR has a rich tradition and history that dates back more than 70 years. But no sport has had a further road to travel when it comes to inclusion.

Since its inception in 1948, there have only been two minority owners — Danville native Wendell Scott and now, NBA legend and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan.

“The most basic access sometimes is the most critical access. So being able to share that information and serve as a steering mechanism, if you will, toward the opportunities,” said Warrick Scott.

His grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer, Wendell Scott, was the first black owner during his racing days in the 1960s-- fostering change then, creating opportunities now.

Wendell Scott paved a way for African Americans in NASCAR decades ago despite facing brutal racism (WSLS)

“What NASCAR is doing, in my opinion, is doing what they need to be doing: rolling their sleeves up, really going to work and doing a deep detail,” said Scott.

That deep detail? Addressing racial disparities within the sport. Throughout 2020, things seem to be shifting in the right gear. With Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin creating a new team and naming Bubba Wallace as the driver, it’s a move that many say will help things take a turn for the better.

“I think it’s awesome, an awesome form of exposure with regards to the Michael Jordan brand, which is already in the sport with the relationship he has with Denny,” said Scott.

Warrick Scott says Michael Jordan's decision to enter NASCAR is great for exposure and opens up new opportunities. (WSLS)

The need to diversify NASCAR hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2004 NASCAR introduced the Driver for Diversity program, with the goal of giving women and minorities training opportunities, steering them in the right direction to be drivers or pit crew members.

Some that have come through the program? Daniel Suarez, the 2016 XFINITY series champ and the first foreign-born driver to win a national series title.

Daniel Suarez became the first foreign-born driver to win a national series title when he was crowned 2016 XFINITY Series Champion (WSLS)

Bubba Wallace also came through the program--who’s truck series win at Martinsville in 2014, marked the first time a black driver had won a national touring race in 50 years.

Bubba Wallace (pictured left) has been a voice for change in NASCAR throughout the 2020 season (WSLS)

Pit Crew All-Star Jeremy Kimbrough is a 2016 graduate of the program who was steered from the football field to the race track — thanks in large part to the Drive for Diversity program. He’s now a pit-crew all-star as a tire changer with Chip Ganassi Racing on Kurt Busch’s team.

“It was crucial to learning all the ins and outs, the terminology and how to prepare for race weekends and what to say to crew chiefs,” said Kimbrough.

Jeremy Kimbrough spent 2 seasons in the NFL before entering the Drive for Diversity program. Now he's a tire carrier for Kurt Busch. (WSLS)

“I’ve talked to lots of young African American and Hispanic and Asian drivers across the country. I get inboxes and mementos all the time and they want us to know they want to race,” Scott said.

Not only compete in a race, but also as a race in a sport that has gone under the hood for something deeper than tune-ups. But rather an engine overhaul--to reach equality and inclusion.

“Kudos to NASCAR because they are making an effort to make sure these things don’t get out of hand and get better. Rome wasn’t built in a day so I know it’s going to take time,” Kimbrough said.

“There’s a long way to go...very long way to go. But you know, history will show, history will reveal how effective these things are,” said Scott.

About the Author:

Eric is no stranger to the Roanoke Valley. He is a Roanoke native and proud graduate of William Fleming High School.