NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity — Combine Day One

By BASN Wire Services
Updated: October 17, 2007

SOUTH BOSTON, Va. — The strongest field of drivers in the history of the Drive For Diversity program took the track for the fifth annual Testing & Evaluation Combine at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. Half of the 24 drivers participated in the on-track evaluation. The remaining 12 drivers took part in a media portion of the event.

“Today we saw an impressive group of drivers on the track,” said Marcus Jadotte, who oversees NASCAR’s diversity initiative as its managing director of public affairs. “NASCAR is proud to support the 2007 Drive For Diversity combine and the 2008 Drive For Diversity Class. NASCAR is the Great American sport and one of the aims of this program is to help it look more like America.”

More than 200 applicants were narrowed down to the 24 that are taking part in the combine. From there, eight drivers will be selected to compete in NASCAR’s Grand National Division and Whelen All-American Series.

The Grand National Division is NASCAR’s top developmental series, and is the last step before drivers move up to the NEXTEL Cup Series, Busch Series or Craftsman Truck Series. Drive For Diversity is run by Access Marketing & Communications.

“We have very strong field this year because of the deeper and more experiences pool of drivers that applied,” Jadotte said. “And it’s reflected in the strongest field of drivers we’ve had here.”

Among the returnees is Jesus Hernandez of Fresno, Calif.

Hernandez was part of the program on the weekly level and last year ran in the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series. He’s hoping another impressive showing at the combine will help him progress up the ladder.

“You come into this, there’s a different pressure involved from being part of it, coming back and then moving forward with your career,” Hernandez said. “I think it went well. I think the consistency was there, which is ultimately what they’re looking for.”

Three identically prepared cars were used in the on-track process.

Nineteen-year-old Alli Owens grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla. before moving to North Carolina to futher her racing career and has applied to be part of the program each year it’s operated. This was the first time she was selected to attend the combine. The selective nature of the program helped Owens’ appreciation of just what it takes to make the cut.

“It made me respect it a lot more,” Owens said. “It shows NASCAR is serious about its program. They believe in it and want to make it work. Whether I get chosen or not, it’s one of the greatest things I’ll ever get to do.”

Maine native Katie Hagar, 21, is attending her second combine. She did not make the final class last year.

“The pressure is just the same,” Hagar said. “That doesn’t go away anytime you have to prove yourself in front of a large group of people that can open up some doors and some opportunities.”

Hagar said the previous experience in the combine did help her know what to expect from the high-pressure atmosphere.

“I was just focusing on nailing my points. I just wanted to show them that I can do this and they need a female in the Busch East that can wheel it.”

Other drivers that took part in the driving Monday included Joe Henderson, Molly Rhoads, Trista Stevenson, Paulie Harraka, Peter Hernandez, Jill George, Alison Quick, Kristin Bumbera, and Ruben Pardo.