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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Winston-Salem State promotes NASCAR diversity

For the NASCAR racing business to thrive, it needs to broaden its popularity. Winston-Salem State University, a historically black institution, does its part by offering a bachelor’s degree in motorsports management. It established the program in 2007. Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte is the only other U.S. university with a similar program. With Bubba Wallace emerging as NASCAR’s first African-American driver since 1971, the Winston-Salem program’s coordinator Clay Harshaw is optimistic about the sport’s future. The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

What has been the overall experience with the program?

The Motorsports Management Program has been well received by the motorsports industry, especially in North Carolina. We have made connections for our students with a variety of teams, suppliers, tracks and sanctioning bodies. The industry is extremely supportive of our program.

Was there an R.J.  Reynolds connection, before they exited NASCAR?

We have had connections with professionals who made major impacts in racing when they were working with R.J. Reynolds and the Winston Racing programs. One of our former instructors was Roger Bear, who had a storied career with NASCAR. Roger is retired but still active in motorsports.

What was catalyst to start the program?

NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program was the major catalyst. As an HBCU located in the heart of North Carolina’s motorsports industry, we are uniquely positioned to attract a diverse student population for motorsports. It also helps that we have the oldest NASCAR-sanctioned track, Bowman Gray Stadium, right on campus.

Have any students gone into NASCAR work full time?

Several of our students have gone on to full-time positions with NASCAR teams, tracks, and support firms like sponsorship and public-relations organization. Some of our graduates have taken careers in other racing types like drag racing and sports car racing.

I think our students offer a different perspective on NASCAR and can help move the sport forward.

What is your view of the sport’s long-term viability?

NASCAR, like all major sports, has to adapt to appeal to a younger and changing demographic in the United States to remain viable. In recent years, NASCAR has been making changes in efforts to attract more fans. In some cases, races are now broken into three segments, which might be appealing to younger fans, but we do not know the full impact on developing long-term fans.

What is the impact of Bubba Wallace?

I think the increased diversity of drivers can help NASCAR’s fan base. Drivers from the Drive for Diversity program such as Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Daniel Suarez, and Kyle Larson can help increase the interest in the sport. Another driver I think could improve the interest in NASCAR is Jesse Iwuji, a Navy veteran from Texas. He has raced in the ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Truck series.

Has NASCAR supported the program?

NASCAR, its teams, and its tracks have been incredibly supportive of our program. They have given our students access to field experiences, internships and networking since the program started. We have had field experiences at Charlotte Motor Speedway in hospitality management and Martinsville Speedway in the media center. NASCAR has given students tours of the Research and Development Center in Concord and the Hall of Fame in Charlotte. We have also had experiences with tracks hosting IndyCar and International Motor Sports Association events. Everywhere we go, we receive a warm welcome.

How did you personally get interested in this work?

I grew up as a racing fan. Both of my parents raced in Sports Car Club of America autocross and road rallies when I was little. My mom made folks really mad when she would win against the men; this was in the mid-1960s. My dad moved to racing motorcycle enduros — timed events like a road rally over 80-plus miles of road and woods trails in the early 1970s. I guess you could say racing is in my blood. Unfortunately, I have not participated in the racing side of motorsports.

Having the opportunity to teach about the sport I love is a dream come true.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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