NASCAR plans to hire and train more minorities

Updated: February 9, 2006, 1:02 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NASCAR is revving up its efforts to bolster diversity in stock car racing with a new plan to train and hire more minorities to drive, work the pits and handle its business.

The plan announced Wednesday in Washington, D.C., with the help of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., includes working with historically black universities to teach NASCAR's technical curriculum by linking them to the Universal Technical Institute, a multi-campus program used by the racing body.

NASCAR already works with at least two historically black colleges in North Carolina, said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. The efforts at North Carolina A&T State University and Winston-Salem State University will "open some exciting doors'' to students in technical fields," he said.

"When you see an industry ... start to grow," Watt said of NASCAR, "you want it to have the kind of diversity that reflects our nation."

The first and only black driver to win a major NASCAR race was Wendell Scott of Virginia in 1963.

"We consider him the Jackie Robinson of our sport," said NASCAR spokesman Josh Hamilton, adding that a scholarship has been started in his name.

Today, Bill Lester of Oakland, Calif., is the lone black NASCAR driver in its three top series. Lester drives a Toyota in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Among NASCAR's roughly 40 teams, there is one black and two Hispanic team owners.

NASCAR in recent years has sought paid advice from ex-NBA star Magic Johnson and former Rep. J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma quarterback who hosted Wednesday's news conference.

Watts lauded NASCAR's most recent diversity effort, but added, "I think [racing officials] would admit that they were not as aggressive as they should have been in extending the hand of fellowship."

NASCAR President Mike Helton acknowledged that selling the sport to minority fans continues to be difficult, but that they are committed to doing just that.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press