NASCAR's drive for diversity program kicks into high gear
by Pete McCole

May 20, 2004

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NASCAR announced Thursday that NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson will serve as co-chairman to the newly created Executive Steering Committee for Diversity.

Johnson serve as an advisor on diversity to NASCAR Chief Operating Officer George Pyne as well as assist NASCAR in developing marketing programs that will increase awareness and visibility for the sport in urban communities.

“There are several reasons why diversity is important,” said Pyne. “Number one, it's the right thing to do. Number two, we believe that as NASCAR looks more like America, our sport will continue to grow. As we outreach to new consumers, everybody in our industry will benefit. We believe by having people from diverse backgrounds involved in our sport, our sport will be better.”

Johnson, a 13-year veteran of the NBA as a player for the Los Angeles Lakers, is CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, as well as the head of the Johnson Development Corporation, which has created much needed jobs and employing local minority contractors and service vendors. JDC has also formed a 50/50 partnership with Starbucks Coffee Company to create Urban Coffee Opportunity. Johnson currently owns 70 Starbucks, all located in ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

“When you think about the NASCAR brand, it resonates everywhere,” Johnson said. “They have the No. 1 sports brand. I have the No. 1 urban brand. So bringing these two brands together, we hope that we can reach out to minorities across this country and introduce a wonderful sport that is already doing very, very, very well, and hopefully will do well in minority communities.”

Johnson will also assist NASCAR with creating grassroots programs such as the Drive For Diversity program – a program to seek out minority and women drivers and crew members to compete in NASCAR racing. Five drivers and six crew members were chosen following a competition combine held in January at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway who will compete in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Racing Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

No timetable has been set on when drivers from the Drive For Diversity program might move up to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, but Johnson is confident that day isn’t too far off.

“I think that goal will be achieved one day. Whenever that day comes, it will be a great day,” Johnson said. “Nobody ever thought, ‘Here comes a Tiger Woods in golf.’ Nobody ever thought that hockey would ever have a minority. Now they have several minorities. That just enhances the sport.

“I'm going to work hard with the drivers to make sure that I can assist in whatever they need me to do to help them. That's what I'm here to do.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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