Diversity and inclusion are buzz words used throughout America not just in the corporate sector. When you think of sports those words are usually at the forefront. All major sports had someone to challenge the racial or gender barrier. However, there is one sport that has taken some time to make the most of that opportunity; NASCAR. Since 2004, they have led a program called Drive for Diversity. It is designed to market the sport to groups of people and fans who aren’t white and or American born. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of success. That’s why the weekend of June 9-11 at the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania is significant. It will feature a foreign born driver and a black driver.
Daniel Suarez is a 25 year old Mexican professional race car driver. He will be driving the number 19 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. He is a native of Monterrey, Mexico where he began racing in 2002. He won the Rookie of the Year in Mexico 2010. His father, Alejandro Suarez, sacrificed a lot for his son to have the opportunity to race in the United States. His dad owned a small auto-restoration shop in Monterrey. He pooled all his resources to build the racing karts to jump start his son’s career. Suarez said, “My dad, he has done a lot for me with a little… Just a few people really know what it has been to go through this process to make it to this point. One of those people is my dad. For me to be here in the United States, to be a Latin driver (in America), I am the only one. And that is great… I really like to be that driver that came from a different country, who has something else to say, who has a different story.” It wasn’t easy for Suarez with the language barrier, but if you want something bad enough you make it happen. And that’s exactly what he did. He watched American television – two movies a day as “homework” – and studied English. He was a member of the Drive for Diversity Class in 2014. He proved himself and began racing in the Xfinity Series in 2014. Eleven months later, he won his first Xfinity pole, then a victory, and capped it off with being named the series’ rookie of the year. In 2016, Suarez won the Xfinity Series championship, becoming the first foreign-born driver to do so. Carl Edwards suddenly retired at the beginning of the year and that gave way to Suarez becoming the first Mexican-born competitor to race full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. “It’s been a hell of a ride so far,” he said. “It was amazing last year with the Xfinity championship and now this. It’s been a very fun journey so far and I’m trying to enjoy every single moment of it.”
Darrell Wallace Jr., who goes by Bubba, is a 23 year old black professional race car driver. He was born in Mobile, Alabama to a white father and a black mother. He started racing at nine years old. His parents taught him at young age how to deal with the words and reactions because of his skin color. “I would get the gestures and everything thrown out,” Wallace said. “We’d show up the next weekend and win. That’s how I was taught. That’s how I was raised, to ignore the stupidity, continue on and do what I need to do.” Wendell Scott was the first black to start a NASCAR race on March 4, 1961 in Spartanburg, SC. However, he had engine problems that day and did not finish. Scott is also the only black driver to win a race, on December 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, FL. There were no blacks in NASCAR from 1973 until Willy T. Ribbs started three races in 1986. Bill Lester got one Busch Series start in 1999 but he wasn’t a full-time NASCAR driver. He started racing full-time in the NASCAR Truck series in 2002. He made his first Sprint Cup series start in 2006 at the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March. This start for Bubba Wallace will make him the fourth black driver in NASCAR to start a race. He was also a part of the Drive for Diversity program. He has five years of experience in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, and has five wins and 20 top-five finishes. In 83 races he hasn’t won one, which is probably why he hasn’t made it up to the Cup Series. At the Pocono, he will take the wheel of the number 43 Ford, the same number made famous by Hall of Famer Richard Petty. He is filling in for Aric Almirola, who is recovering from a compression back fracture suffered May 13 in a race at Kansas. It remains to be seen what will happen when Almirola is healthy enough to return. For now Wallace said, “This is a huge step for NASCAR, the whole sport in general, for bringing diversity to its top tier level of NASCAR. I’m glad to be leading the forefront of that right now. It just shows that we’re trying to bring in a new demographic. We’re trying to bring in a new face, get a younger generation, no matter what color, what age. Everybody should deserve the same opportunity, the same challenge.”
NASCAR has its “Super Bowl” of racing known as the Daytona 500. This year you saw the discrepancy of diversity and inclusion. In the field of 40 drivers, it featured one female driver, one Cuban-American driver, one Japanese-American driver and Suarez. Suarez and Wallace have been given an opportunity from the misfortunes of others. Let’s just hope they make the most of it.