Diversity is Key to NASCAR’s Growth

The 2013 NASCAR Diversity Interns  Pictured in the 2nd row-far right is NASCAR Diversity Affairs team member Kristian Vazquez-Diaz
The 2013 NASCAR Diversity Interns
Pictured in the 2nd row-far right is NASCAR Diversity Affairs team member Kristian Vazquez-Diaz

This past weekend, a select group of individuals from across the U.S. embarked on a new journey in life – an internship with NASCAR.

The NASCAR Diversity Internship is a 10-week long program that places ethnically diverse college students in a variety of positions throughout the sport. These positions range from public relations, broadcasting, licensing, marketing, engineering, plus more.

In its 14th year, the diversity internship is a great opportunity for minorities to gain valuable experience through real life experience, while continuing their education. Since its inception in 2000, the program has seen hundreds of applicants each year but only a few are given the chance to participate

In order to get this opportunity, students have to at least be in their sophomore year of college, have a minimum 3.0 GPA, and be in good standing with their school.

Along with 15 others, I was selected for this year’s class. We are all thrilled for the chance to showcase our skills and will do our part to make the most out of this opportunity with NASCAR.

The first step was a 3 day orientation in Charlotte. It began on Thursday and ended with all of us getting to enjoy the Sprint Cup All-Star Race on Saturday night.

It was an experience that we will never forget.

Interns are like sponges — we soak up all the information we receive

We got to tour the NASCAR Media Group headquarters in Charlotte
We got to tour the NASCAR Media Group headquarters in Charlotte

During orientation, we got to experience and see things that any average fan of NASCAR could only dream about.

The first day of orientation was pretty relaxed. We met at our hotel in Charlotte and went bowling later that night. It was more of a social gathering, but the fun was just getting started.

On Friday, we woke up at the crack of dawn and traveled to the NASCAR Research & Development Center. There, we learned about the safety initiatives that NASCAR has put in place over the years to make the sport safer. Also, we saw the vast amount of improvements the sport has made over the years and new innovations like the Gen-6 car that we see on the track today.

From revamped roll cages, the SAFER barrier, to the in car fire extinguisher, and improved chassis in cars, safety is the number one priority  Cheating, however, is a concern and we got to see exactly where the teams get caught when NASCAR breaks down their cars and finds something outside of the rules.

A guided tour of the facility allowed us to see some behind the scenes stuff that we normally wouldn’t see or hear about. Many places we weren’t able to take pictures because of the innovative things NASCAR is working on but others included a fascinating area where NASCAR tests the safety of things like the race car’s windshield – which can handle a 15 pound piece of tungsten traveling about 100mph.

Another cool thing we learned was that they purposely dropped racecars from about 7 feet to test the durability of the car’s roof. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a dent in my car, much less having it dropped!

The R&D center overall was a unique learning experience. It was amazing to see how much work is done to make sure drivers can walk away from a hard crash.

From there, we went on a scenic view Mooresville, North Carolina.

This wasn’t planned, but our bus driver apparently had the wrong address for RevolutionRacing.

Once we finished our tour of Mooresville, we finally made it to Rev Racing.

They are a part of the Drive for Diversity (D4D) program and house cars for the NASCAR K&N Series as well as the NASCAR Whelen Series. We learned about their efforts to get more diverse drivers in NASCAR and how they are succeeding in doing that. A prime example is Darrell Wallace Jr., who drove for the team before going to Joe Gibbs Racing. We got to tour the shop, meet their drivers, including up and comer Ryan Gifford, and talk with the pit crew.

With Darrell Wallace Jr. prior to the race
With Darrell Wallace Jr. prior to the race

Once we left Revolution Racing, we departed for Roush-Fenway Racing to tour their facilities.

At the end of the day we got to enjoy the Camping World Truck Series race. It was bitter sweet for us because our driver, Darrell Wallace Jr., was in contention for the win before he was caught up in a late-race wreck.

On Saturday, we got to travel to the NASCAR Media Group headquarters in Charlotte. This was quite the thrill.

You don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes to produce everything we see on television, the internet, and the track. It’s a huge facility with people working nonstop to bring NASCAR to a city near you.

The coolest part for me was the fan and media engagement center.

There, NASCAR is able to track almost everything we comment on through social media. From tweets complaining about commercials, high points of a certain driver getting mentioned, or overall reaction from the race, NASCAR is closely paying attention to it all.

The goal is for NASCAR to judge what the fans are talking about the most and focus its strategy on making the sport better. For example, if people are constantly complaining about commercials…which we do, NASCAR can take that information to FOX or ESPN and let them know what they need to work on. I believe this is a highly beneficial tool for NASCAR because it shows that they’re continuously looking out for the best interest of the fans.

Needless to say, if you work for or want to work for the sport one day, watch what you tweet because they are watching you!

We left there to go to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

This was my third time there, but I learn something new every time I visit. For instance, did you know that NASCAR legend, David Pearson, would tape chewing gum on the dash and chew a new piece for every 100 miles of the race? The car that’s at the Hall of Fame still has gum in it from the car’s last race. You really learn something new every day.

From there it was on to the track and the finale – the Sprint Cup All-Star Race.

Jimmie Johnson won the All-Star Race -- a cool million dollars
Jimmie Johnson won the All-Star Race — a cool million dollars
Sprint Cup driver, Danica Patrick, took a moment to pose with the group
Sprint Cup driver, Danica Patrick, took a moment to pose with the group

Overall impressions

There were plenty of other things that we got to experience throughout the orientation weekend. This included going to the Sprint Cup drivers meeting, hanging out by the stage both nights for driver introductions, and meeting different personalities throughout the sport.

We met quite a few people that work in the sport who not only went through the diversity internship program, but currently have full time jobs in the sport. This was very encouraging for all of us.

The biggest take away from the weekend came from the people that spoke to us. They gave us helpful advice that will go a long way in our future endeavors.

NASCAR is a huge sport, but a small family. In order to accomplish the goal of working in the sport, you have to put in the work and make the right connections. Everyone we talked to loved their jobs and they gave me justification for my goal of wanting to work in the sport. If you are doing something you love, happiness will come naturally. There is nothing that makes me happier than NASCAR.

For a few of the interns, this was their first time getting to experience NASCAR. If they weren’t fans before, they definitely are now.

But hey, don’t just take it from me. Here’s what some of my fellow interns had to say about the weekend.

Melia Sigmon: “Despite orientation being just a few days long, I’ve benefited in more ways than I ever imagined possible. From snippets of wisdom gleaned during speaker events to brushing shoulders with NASCAR superstars, orientation was definitely the most rewarding experience I’ve ever come across in an internship program. If the rest of the summer is like this, then I want to be an intern forever!

Paige Sanchez: As I am pursuing a career in the NASCAR industry, this orientation experience was a dream come true for me. It has opened my eyes to the innumerable opportunities this sport has to offer and has given me a behind the scenes experience of the weekly operations that make each race possible. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to professionals in the sport and learning about the skills that I need to develop. As if I didn’t love NASCAR enough already, I have definitely come away from this with a greater appreciation of this extraordinary sport.

Rachel Almario: I’ve been a diehard NASCAR fan since about twelve years old and knew I had an extreme passion for the sport. I’ve strongly wanted to change the stereotypical ideas that people have of NASCAR and show that NASCAR is much more diverse than people realize. Being in the diversity internship program, it has fueled my fire even more with the understanding that NASCAR wants to become part of popular culture and break those stereotypical boundaries as I also want to do.” 

By Guest Writer and friend, Dontae Allen

Follow Dontae on Twitter: @Dontae_Allen

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