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Drive for Diversity Gets on Track in South Boston

October 16, 2006 ~ Press Release ~ To See Original Article>>

SOUTH BOSTON, Va. — Nineteen aspiring NASCAR drivers put their best foot forward Monday at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, as the Drive for Diversity testing and evaluation combine got underway. Drivers were evaluated during an all-day test session at the famous short track, in hopes of securing an opportunity to race with the ethnic and gender minority driver development program in 2007.

The drivers each spent 30 minutes on the track, in NASCAR Grand National Division cars prepared by veteran driver and team owner Jeff Spraker. The program, now entering its fourth year, will pair eight drivers with car owners and sponsors in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series and the NASCAR Grand National Division next season.

Greg Calhoun, CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Access Marketing and Communications, which operates the Drive for Diversity program, says this week’s on-track tryout is an important test, but the emphasis is on the big picture – the future.

“We started the program in 2003 and to date, I think we’ve had a lot of success stories,” said Calhoun. “We’re real optimistic about what the future entails.”

The future for many of these drivers began Monday at South Boston. Each driver received coaching during their on-track session from Spraker and his crew members, along with inaugural Drive for Diversity participant Morty Buckles and former South Boston Speedway track champion Frank Deiny Jr.

Paul Harraka of Fairlawn, N.J., and Mike Gallegos, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., posted two of the day’s fastest lap times. Harraka circled the 4/10-mile oval in 15.868 seconds (90.74 mph) while Gallegos’ fastest lap of the day was 16.005 seconds (89.97 mph). To put these speeds in perspective, the South Boston Speedway track qualifying record for NASCAR Busch Series cars, which are similar to the NASCAR Grand National Division cars used Monday, is 15.245 seconds (94.457 mph) set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1998.

For all the drivers, Monday was a learning experience they won’t soon forget.

Gallegos raced under the program in 2005 and spent the 2006 season with his own team in the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Midwest Series. Monday’s event was a pressure-packed session, under the watchful eyes of several notable race teams, but Gallegos said his competitive spirit is strong under any circumstances.

“I race because I’m a very competitive person,” said Gallegos. “Racing allows me to put myself up against the other drivers on the track and see what I can do with my natural talent. It’s just a great deal to be a part of.”

Brianne Cronrath, a Pennsylvania native now residing in North Carolina, is another previous Drive for Diversity participant and feels she is on equal footing with other drivers.

“[Racing] is my love. This is all I want to do,” said Cronrath. “I feel like girls can go anything that guys can do, so I don’t feel any different being here.”

Off the track, the drivers participated in media training session and also spent time with their prospective team owners. In the end, it was all about opportunity.

California native Jesus Hernandez, who raced with the Drive for Diversity program at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway in 2006, said his goal is to keep improving.

“I hope to continue to develop my skills and talents – and move forward,” said Hernandez.

Tracey Chambers of Timberlake, N.C., went through the combine in 2005 but was not selected to participate in 2006. Undeterred, Chambers returned this year with a positive outlook. “This time around, I hope to be able to show my skills a little better, get on the track and be consistent and smooth,” said Chambers, who races at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, N.C. “I’ve been racing Late Models for the past three years and I’ve been around racing all of my life. I am hoping to be smooth and learn how to drive these [Grand National] cars.”

Ashley Parlett, a Maryland native who relocated to North Carolina to pursue her racing career, said she hopes to put her stock car skills to use by trying out for the Drive for Diversity program.

“I’m hoping that I can get a chance to shine and display what I’ve learned the past two years,” said Parlett.

Other participating drivers included Chris Bristol of Columbus, Ohio; Michael Cherry of Valrico, Fla.; Bryan Driver of Pennington, N.J.; Katie Hagar of Nobleboro, Me.; Destiney Hays of View Lane, Calif.; Jessica Helberg of Petaluma, Calif.; Peter Hernandez of Blue Island, Ill.; Danny Martin Jr. of Sarasota, Fla.; Candace Muzny of Oklahoma City, Okla.; Alison Quick of Redding, Calif.; Molly Rhoads of Hastings, Minn.; and Jonathan Smith of Beacon Falls, Conn.

Weather permitting, the drivers will return to South Boston Speedway for another round of tests on Tuesday.

About Drive for Diversity (Access Marketing & Communications)
Drive for Diversity® is a diverse driver and crew member development program created and managed by Access Marketing & Communications, a Charlotte-based multicultural marketing firm founded in 2003. In 2006, the program supported eight drivers in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series and 12 crew members in the NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Drive for Diversity® is an initial step in a long-term solution to diversify NASCAR’s participant and audience base.

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