By Caleb Whisler, Staff Writer
Since it’s inception in 2004, NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity (D4D) program has helped minorities get involved in NASCAR, whether it is through driving a car, working on a pit crew or working within the industry as an intern. This program was started by NASCAR’s marketing executives and Brian France, chairman and chief executive officer, in an effort to attract minority fans and drivers to the sport.
According to NASCARDiversity.com the mission is “to engage women and people of diverse, ethnic, and racial backgrounds in all facets of the NASCAR industry.”
D4D and NASCAR have implemented a pit crew development program through partnership with Max Siegel and Rev Racing. This comprehensive training program is designed to identify, coach, train and develop minority athletes who have the skill, ability and attitude to become a pit crew member in one of the three NASCAR national series. Today, numerous pit crews are filled with successful athletes that have been through
Rev Racing also supports drivers in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and Whelen All-American Series. Each summer, NASCAR and Rev Racing hold a driver combine at New Symrna Beach (Fla.) Speedway. The combine is designed to develop and train drivers both on and off the racetrack. A select number of candidates will be selected from the application process to undergo a rigorous three-day assessment.
The D4D program will see three graduates in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. Kyle Larson, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez have all went through this program with Rev Racing.
When you ask Ruben Garcia Jr, Chase Cabre and Ryan Vargas, three of the six drivers selected for the 2018 D4D Class, each driver is excited to see three graduates racing at the top-level of NASCAR showing that the D4D program is successful.
For Cabre, the D4D program shows a pathway towards the top-level.
“It means a lot. They kinda showed the pathway and the light at the end of the tunnel. For us to be able to go out there, come out of the same shop as them, work out in the same gym as they did and be able to the same things they did; I hope we can follow along the same path they did,” stated Cabre.
For Garcia, racing against Suarez in Mexico and now seeing him at the Cup level provides a boost of confidence.
“It’s great. I think it proves that the program really works. It just gives us a little bit of confidence to see that if you work right and make the right decisions that the program is big enough and successful enough to take you to that place,” said Garcia.
Whenever someone walks through the shop at Rev Racing, they will see banners hung on the shop walls with Larson, Suarez and Wallace’s name on them. Vargas walks into the shop and sees the potential D4D offers and hopes that his name will one day be on the walls of the race shop.
“To me, it means that this program really has the potential to really push me to the next level. I want to follow them. There are tons of banners hung around the shop of Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, and Kyle Larson. I hope by the end of the year I can have a banner or two up there,” said Vargas.
When you ask Siegel about the three D4D alumnus in the Cup series, you see a “proud father” moment. However, Siegel’s mission is still not complete. The mission is to see the D4D program successful across all levels of NASCAR.
“I think it is critically important. We have a lot of work to do. We need to keep the pipeline full. We need to continue to grow the talent pool across the entire sport, but it really should be reinforcement for those folks. I think it is really important to the sustainability of any program to see it successful. The success is important and it continues to help us attract high-caliber younger people,” stated Siegel.
Jim Cassidy, senior vice president of racing operations for NASCAR, echoed the sentiments of Siegel about the success of D4D.
“I think what it says is that it is a fully legitimate program that develops a lot of different people for different roles in this sport. Also, if you look at each one of those drivers and the path that they have taken, each path has been very different from where they came from, how they entered the sport, and how they ended up where they are today,” mentioned Cassidy. “I look at the ultimate success of the program and base it obviously on those drivers coming up through and where they up came up through.”
Cassidy discussed Suarez pursuing the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series. Cassidy reflected that the talent Suarez had could have taken an open-wheel route if NASCAR did not start the series.
“I don’t know if we hadn’t thought about and hadn’t started stock car racing and developed that in Mexico, Danny might have been choosing an open wheel route, but he saw NASCAR Mexico as an option to develop his racing career. He used it the right way. He earned his ride with Rev Racing and used it to his advantage to propel his career to ultimately the highest level,” reflected Cassidy.
According to NASCAR president, Brent Dewar, the sanctioning body is proud of where the D4D program has grown as welll as the crop of talent that was selected for the 2018 class.
“What I think it has grown into is, we have instituted like other sports a combine. What we have is so many young talented folks coming through. We just finished the combine,” stated Dewar. “We are picking the best of the best. What I was impressed with 14 or so that came to see us through the combine was that they were accomplished racers already at their age. This is just another opportunity to get them in a platform in and outside of a car.”
Where does the future of the D4D program go within the next five to ten years?
According to Dewar, the plan for NASCAR is to tap ultimately tap into iRacing to provide more opportunities for young men and women to get involved in NASCAR.
“What we want to do is between the iRacing opportunity and also through driving into the combine to eventually being in the D4D program. It just provides more opportunities for young men and women to develop that maybe wouldn’t have had a chance otherwise,” stated Dewar.
For Siegel, the goal for D4D is to help attract the younger demographics to NASCAR through all levels of motorsports. He believes that engaging fans from local short tracks to the top-level of NASCAR will help engage more fans and catapult the popularity of the sport.
“What’s really amazing and interesting to me is that if you look at the sport in general at the weekly short tracks and you see how much those races and race car drivers mean to the communities across the country. It tells you how much impact NASCAR has week in and week out. The more younger people we can get involved at every level, whether it is carts, Bandeleros, Legend cars, the short tracks because quite frankly there is only a small percentage of professional athletes that make it to the Cup seres anyways. I think that will help us engage more fans and continue to catapult the popularity of the sport.”
Siegel’s goal begins in 2018 as Rev Racing will field teams in the K&N Pro Series East, Whelen All American Series, Bandelero’s and Legend cars.
Garcia, Vargas and Cabre will race full time in the K&N Pro Series, while racing in the Whelen All-American Series.
Ernie Francis Jr. will race road course races in the K&N Pro Series, while racing in select Whelen All-American Series. Francis will also be the organization’s test driver.
Nick Sanchez will race full-time in the Whelen All American Series and Isabella Robusto will lead the Legend car program for the organization.