Way back in 1947, when Bill France Sr. created the National Association of Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) it’s unlikely that he and the roughly twenty other white men in the room with him, had the advancement of women or people of color in mind. And that was par for the course in America. While they met to form what would become one of the premier motorsports organizations in the world, Jim Crow was in full swing and women earned only 46 cents for every dollar that men earned. But just as Jim Crow has been eliminated and women have come closer to earning their fair share, NASCAR has made progress and given women and people of color access to the organization. Last Saturday, NASCAR’s Multicultural Development’s Division invited various groups to be a part of its NASCAR Opinion Leaders activation at the Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) during the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series double header to see some of that progress. In partnership with Minorities in Sports (MIS), GladiatHers.com was in the middle of the action.
Among roaring engines, blowing whistles and the hustle and bustle of the pit Lauren Houston, Senior Account Executive for Multicultural Development, talked to GladiatHers.com, other members of MIS (TheSportStyle.com, Taunita Stephenson and Deontay Morris) and other groups about what NASCAR was doing to get women involved in the sport.
“We have a number of programs geared at women and people of color. For athletes, the Drive for Diversity Program develops drivers with on and off the track training. Drivers apply to attend the annual NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine. A select number of candidates then attend the tryout camp and after a rigorous three-day assessment, the drivers join Rev Racing and compete in one of several developmental series. We also have a Pit Crew Development Program which identifies, coaches, trains and develops minority athletes who possess the skill, ability and attitude to be a successful pit crew member in one of the three NASCAR national series. We have a number of former student-athletes in that program.”
What about for women who are non- or former- athletes?
“On the business side, we have our Diversity Internship program where we specifically recruit minorities at both minority serving institutions and predominately white institutions. We bring in a lot of entry-level talent so that they can learn about the sport and the business behind it and hopefully transition into full-time positions once they’re done with the internship. In the last 16 years we’ve had over 350 students participate in that program and about a quarter of those have been hired. At the upper level, we have events like this where we bring seasoned professional groups in engineering, business, journalism, finance, etc. for immersion experiences. The goal is that you all will have a great time on race day and go back and spread the word that these various opportunities exist. Strategically, we also try to partner with other large organizations like Honda, that are tied to female and people of color based groups to sort of cross pollinate.
Lauren Houston – Multicultural Development – NASCAR
Do you think your efforts have led to an increased interest from female drivers?
“Yes, definitely. We had our 2016 Combine in October. There were 17 total participants. The majority, about 12 t0 13, were women. So we’re definitely moving in a positive direction as far as attracting women.”
While it might be easy for Houston to speak favorably about NASCAR’s initiatives because, well, she’s paid to do so, I was curious to know how others within the organization viewed NASCAR’s Diversity efforts. Drag Racer turned K&N Pro Series Driver Salvatore Iovino sang the programs praises. As it related to women in NASCAR, Iovino was thrilled to see more women hopping in the drivers’ seats and encouraged MIS and GladiatHers.com to tell the stories of the lesser-known, well deserving women in racing like Maddie Crane, Amber Balcaen and Jennifer Jo Cobb. “It’s tough getting sponsorship when (like many of these women and me) you don’t come from the traditional racing backgrounds. So every bit of publicity and coverage these women can get is a big help to their future success.”
In addition to Houston and Iovino’s strong push for women to play active roles in NASCAR, Jim Cassidy, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, chatted about the organization’s genuine push to support women who want to be involved in the sport. “We definitely have women involved as drivers and in other capacities. Since Christmas Abbott came along, we’re finding more women want to be pit crew members. We also have women working as engineers and on the business side. NASCAR not only wants to grow the number of women involved, but we want to keep them engaged and help them be successful.”
From Left to Right: Taunita Stephenson, MIS Representative and Event Manager & Content Creator; Salvatore Iovino, K&N Pro Series Driver; Cecelia Townes, Editor-in-Chief of GladiatHers.com and Founder of Beyond the Game LLC; Nicole Powell, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of TheSportStyle.com.
The commitment to diversifying NASCAR seemed genuine. NASCAR appears to understand the value of a diversified organization and talent pool. Men and women at all levels of NASCAR are striving to grow the participation of traditionally marginalized groups. I think they’re on the right track. There is no shortage of women who want to work in sports, so long as NASCAR continues to reach out to groups aligned toward women and people of color; it will develop that truly diverse organization that it’s striving to become. One thing is for certain, NASCAR has certainly found a new fan in GladiatHers.com so be prepared for more NASCAR coverage in the near future.
GladiatHers.com would like to thank Minorities in Sports, Lauren Houston, Gloria Molina, AMS and all the folks at NASCAR for making GladiatHers® first experience at NASCAR epic. I can’t wait to get back to the track to feel the rumbling engines and watch intense battles for first place. If you’re interested in learning more about working with NASCAR check out the NASCAR Diversity page for more information on all the great opportunities.