The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program is a comprehensive training program for aspiring minority and female pit crew members. The program focuses on instilling the fundamentals, discipline and confidence required to be a top athlete on a NASCAR pit crew. The program includes weekly hands-on, over-the-wall position training and coaching for tire changers, tire carriers, fuelers and jackmen, as well as weight training, agility and footwork programs.
The program’s objective is to create a pit crew development program designed to identify, coach, train and develop minority athletes who possess the skill, ability and attitude to be successful as a pit crew member into elite levels of the sport.
To offer this opportunity to young men and women all across the nation, the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program launched a development and recruitment tour in May of 2016. Diversity in STEAM Magazine got the chance to speak with Dawn Harris, Senior Director, Multicultural Development for NASCAR, more about the Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program and the impact it’s had on the racing industry:
How did the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program get its start?
The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program began in 2004 and is an academy-style development program for female and multicultural drivers and crew members who have the potential and determination to succeed at the highest levels of NASCAR.
What kinds of duties/tasks do the athletes assist with in the pit?
The pit crew is a team of five athletes who jack the car, change tires, refuel gas and adjust parts in a matter of seconds to keep or propel the driver closer to the front of the race.
What do those who participate like most about the program?
Most NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program participants like the comradery and exposure they receive as being part of the program. The pit crew program bodes a 100-percent placement rate, so it’s more than likely that they’ll be placed on a team or will be pitting in the ARCA series or NASCAR national series within a couple of years of graduating from the program.
How do you evaluate the success of the program?
The success of the program is evaluated by how many athletes are placed on teams in NASCAR and how many student-athletes have become interested in the program over time.
How do you select your athletes/drivers for the program?
As far as the pit crew program, NASCAR and Rev Racing scout athletes at different colleges and universities where they host preliminary combines. From there, standout athletes invited to the national combine that takes place in May and a selection is made on who advances to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program, a six-month development program with NASCAR and Rev Racing. The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Youth Combine and Driver Combine are a little different. An application process is involved, and a voting committee decides who is selected for the combine.
How does this program help these drivers progress in their NASCAR careers?
The driver program helps drivers compete in lower series’ where they can showcase their talent and eventually move up to the national series NASCAR teams. It gives them a platform for growth as many teams are constantly looking to fill seats on their rosters and searching for up and coming talent. These series include NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, ARCA Menards Series and US Legends’ Car Series. Drivers also get support with media training and physical fitness training.
Can you share any part of the success of the program?
There are three drivers competing at the highlight level of NASCAR in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series who have come from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program, such as the most recent NASCAR winner at Dover International Speedway, Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez. That speaks volumes to the success of the program because they started from the bottom and have worked their way to the top.
What impact has the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program had on the racing industry?
Since 2004, the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program has introduced more women and minorities to the sport than ever before. It’s shown that there’s more people to reach in diverse communities that also have a love for racing but may not have seen a viable career option. This program is helping to change the narrative about diversity in racing. Not only does it start on a driver level but reaches every part of the industry from the office to the crew members to the tracks and teams.
How significant was it to have both Daniels and O’Leary participate in the Daytona 500?
Very significant. That was the first time two women graduates from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program went over the wall on the same team at the Daytona 500. It signifies a turning point in the industry as women become more athletic and break down barriers in a traditionally male role. We want NASCAR, on and off the track, to reflect the diverse makeup of our country.
What other participants can you share with us from the Drive for Diversity program being featured in even more key races in the future?
As mentioned before, Kyle Larson is currently competing for a championship in the top series. Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez are also competing at the highest level of the sport. Isabella Robusto is a youth driver who’s been successful on and off the track. She competes in Legends’ cars, but she has dreams of making it to the top level. Participants from the pit crew program include Kenyatta Houston and Johnathan Willard who work for race teams and pit full time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
What other aspects of diversity would you like to share with us about your program and/or general diversity efforts NASCAR has made, is making and will be making?
Recently, NASCAR hosted the 2019 Sports Diversity and Inclusion Symposium in Daytona Beach, Fla. at Daytona International Speedway. The event gathers diversity and inclusion practitioners from top U.S. sports leagues to engage in meaningful dialogue and share best practices around D&I efforts across the industry.
Please visit https://hometracks.nascar.com/drive-for-diversity/ for more information on NASCAR Drive for Diversity.