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Drive For Diversity Program

Drive For Diversity Program News
Drive For Diversity "Combine" Underway At South Boston Speedway
Oct 18, 2005 - updated Oct 18th, 2005 1:41pm
Web posted by Jeremy Davidson

South Boston, Va. --

Oct. 17, 2005

The third annual Drive for Diversity “Driver Testing and Evaluation Combine” began Monday at South Boston Speedway. Participating drivers and team owners gathered at the 4/10-mile track, for the first of two days of activities that includes on- and off-track evaluations of drivers hoping to join the driver and crew member development program in 2006.

Over the course of the two-day event, 19 drivers will each participate a 45-minute test in a NASCAR Late Model Stock Car, where they’ll show their skills to team owners and program officials watching closely from the race control tower. The ethnic and gender minority drivers were chosen to participate in the Combine by a panel of motorsports professionals. Eight of the 19 drivers will be paired with a team owner and sponsor to race in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series in 2006.

One of the first drivers on the track Monday was Jessica Helberg, a Sprint Car driver from Petaluma, Calif. One of her very first experiences behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock Car was a memorable one, as she stalled and spun the car at first – unfamiliar with the handling, shifting a braking of the heavy full-bodied racer.

“I don’t have any stock car experience,” admitted Helberg. “In my Sprint Car, you get push-started, so that was new. Then, when I was warming up the tires, I spun it out.”

With the added pressure of competing for one of eight slots in the program and a bevy of big-name owners watching from above, Helberg didn’t let the spinout set her back.

“Every time I’ve done well in Sprint Cars, I had spun out in practice,” said Helberg. “I had that in the back of my mind that it’s not the end of the world when you spin out – I didn’t hit the wall, I didn’t tear up the car. It was a little embarrassing but I knew my limit at that point. The first time out there, in the first turn, I knew where the car could be and where I could push it.”

“At that point, I pretty much felt like I had hit rock bottom and the only way to go was up. So, that’s what I did. I went out there and proved myself every lap. I threw down a pretty fast lap. I had a lot of fun and I definitely learned a lot about stock cars.”

Helberg’s learning curve may be much faster than she admits. After her early difficulties, she settled in to the car and posted one of the fastest laps of the morning session.

As the first day progressed, drivers took turns on the track, in one of three identically-prepared Late Model Stock Cars. Once they were finished in the car, drivers participated in media training sessions by Access Marketing & Communications as well as live media interviews.

The drivers were coached throughout the day by Wendell Scott, a pioneering African-American driver in the 1950’s and 60’s who was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999. 2005 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series national champion Peyton Sellers, who won his title while racing at South Boston, also tutored the drivers on the finer points of racing around South Boston.

Another female driver and returning Drive for Diversity participant, Terri Williams, said it was just as tough the second time around.

“This being my second year in the Combine, it’s pressure in a different way – knowing that you have to come back and knowing that they’re bringing in more and more new talent, good talent, from all over the country,” said Williams. “Seeing the quality of drivers that are here, you’ve really got to step it up.”

Williams, of Capron, Va., spent last season driving for team owners Hermie Sadler (a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series owner/driver) and Bryant Stith (a former NBA player).

“I’d love to be able to go back to a track and compete,” said Williams. “That would be wonderful and, being my second year driving Late Models, I’d like to be able to have an opportunity to feel like I can develop enough at this level and, hopefully, be able to move up and progress from there – to any kind of level I might be able to reach in NASCAR racing.”

Another driver hoping to return to the fold is Passaic, N.J. native Tommy Lane, who has seen all aspects of the Drive for Diversity program during its first two seasons. Lane spent the 2004 season as a pit crew member on Sadler’s team and was selected as to drive in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series in 2005. Lane drove at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway for team owner Ray Evernham.

Lane said the program has given him a great start to his racing career and he hopes it grows in the future.

“Ray gave me a great opportunity,” said Lane. “I’m happy. I’ve learned a great deal. Hickory is a real hard track to get around. If you can get around there, you can get around anywhere. We were getting better and better at the end of the year.

“I think we need a lot more owners to know about this program, to give us opportunities as African-Americans, women, Latinos – to know that there are opportunities out there.”

Jayme Beck, who has raced in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series at Jennerstown (Pa.) Speedway but is participating in the Drive for Diversity Combine for the first time, said the focus for Monday’s session was, first and foremost, on racing.

“I think this program puts the word out there that there are drivers from different paths of life, that are all very talented,” said Layne. “I think everybody here deserves to be here. I think that’s what I like about the program the most – it’s not just a program put together because of the diversity, because people are black or white or male or female or Hispanic – we’re are here for a common goal: we want to race cars. That’s why we’re here and I like that.”

The testing and evaulation combine continues Tuesday at South Boston Speedway.

For more information, contact:

Jeremy Davidson, NASCAR Public Relations, (386) 566-8540 (mobile) or jdavidson@nascar.com.
Kia Ervin, Drive for Diversity, (717) 576-9355 or kervin@drivefordiversity.com


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