The New Face of NASCAR - Page 3 of 9

The New Face of NASCAR

can gauge our audience in terms of our television audience and our track audience. And if we can make an impact in growing that, I think you have to [contribute] some or part to our diversity initiatives.”

The organization has done little in terms of structuring programs. It is counting on its major corporate sponsors to spend the necessary money to create programs that will increase minority participation. The sporting organization’s biggest contribution to the diversity effort seems to be giving programs started by others its blessings.

Access Marketing & Communication is one such program. A multicultural marketing firm founded late last year by The Radiate Group, a global marketing company, and Calhoun Enterprises, a food conglomerate (No. 32 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $107.9 million in sales), it is designed to identify and develop top young minority drivers and give them an opportunity to compete in the Dodge Weekly Series. Calhoun Enterprises president and CEO, Greg Calhoun, is on NASCAR’s diversity council.

According to Access Marketing & Communication general manager, Daryl Stewart, they are in no contractual agreement with NASCAR, but have been “invited in” by the organization and given access to resources, including sponsors. When drivers and sponsors are on board, Access Marketing & Communication will tap into the sponsorship purse for payment. Stewart declined to say what percentage the company expects to take.

An insider claims that NASCAR “raised every single penny for Drive for Diversity” — $1.2 million so far — though the insider would not divulge from whom. The funding was earmarked for four teams to place minority drivers. Six crew members will be placed at the
truck series level. Mentoring will also be provided.

For now, Lester is clearly the most prominent minority in NASCAR. A runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2002, who ranked 14th in points last season, Lester has had his share of challenges on and off the track. Despite early success, it took him 14 years to make the leap from the amateur ranks to professional racing. In 1999, he joined a program run by the Championship Auto Racing Team (CART). It develops African American drivers by letting them test drive cars. CART offered no sponsorship, but that year, Lester met Ed Rensi, retired president and CEO of McDonald’s Corp., who sponsored him for a single race in the Busch Grand Nationals.

A spin in avoidance of an accident resulted in Lester finishing 24th in his first professional debut in NASCAR (for much of the race he was running in the top 10). That performance eventually landed him a chance to drive in the Craftsman Truck Series — the beneficiary of a $2.5 million diversity initiative, sponsored by Dodge, which was designed to put a black driver in a NASCAR truck. Dodge, however, had been unable to attract sponsors and closed its program late last year.

“I criticize corporate America for not putting their money where their mouth is, like Dodge did,” Lester says. “It’s disappointing that these other companies that preach diversity wouldn’t come on board