SOUTH BOSTON SPEEDWAY TRIES NEW APPROACH TO DIVERSITY PROGRAM by Mike Twist
Dr. Joe Mattioli Bases Program on Little League Baseball
One of the biggest buzzwords in racing these days is diversity. The faces of racers have traditionally been mostly white and leaders of the sport have recognized that to grow the sport in the future, the ladder of success must be open to everyone.
The South Boston program will take up to 50 racing karts, supplied by the track, and creative a racing program on a dirt track located on the South Boston grounds. Participants will be chosen from pupils from the Halifax County (VA) Public School system, which is approximately 50% African-American. Students will be able to race at no cost, with expenses paid by the Mattioli Foundation. The karts are being built by former Indycar driver Mark Dismore and the first 20 showed up at the track just before Christmas.
The idea is based the little league system of baseball that Mattioli participated in when he was growing up in the years before WWII. It will offer participants exposure to all aspects of a race team.
So it seems that everyone is starting a diversity program these days. The biggest race teams are. NASCAR is. Some race tracks are even getting involved.
South Boston Speedway is taking a slightly different approach and if it is successful, it will bring young people of all races into a sport that is very cost prohibitive to get a start in currently.
“I’ve seen a lot of diversity programs and they haven’t always worked,” said Dr. Joe Mattioli, owner of South Boston Speedway, as well as Pocono Raceway. “They have all cost a lot of money. So we’ve come up with a little bit of a different idea.”
The karts will be built by fromer Indycar driver Mark Dismore's Comet Kart Sales. Several are already finished. (Comet Kart Photo)
South Boston Speedway is the setting for an innovative new program to get youngsters into racing. (South Boston Speedway Photo)
In the early stages of the project, the ultimate goal of a diversity program might already have been achieved. That is to tear down barriers of color. Race has not been a factor in starting the program and that is leading to African-American and Caucasian children working side-by-side without thinking much about the color of their skin.
“We’re not counting numbers. Everyone wants to mix, so we are letting everyone into the program. We’ll see where the chips fall and I’ll be able to tell you next year how it all works out, but everyone is happy so far.”
“We’re going to only take kids who are in Junior High for the program,” said Mattioli. "They are going to do all of the mechanical work on the cars and get credit for it. We’ll keep the cars in a garage at the speedway and they’ll come out and work as a crew chief, crew member or a driver. It’s amazing the enthusiasm that they have for this. It’s really exciting.”
So far, there are no plans to compete on the paved South Boston track. A pair of four cylinder Pure Stocks provided by the Mattioli Foundation will be available for that purpose. But that could change in future years.
“They’ve been a little bit shy about running on the asphalt,” said Matioli. “But since it is only 4/10th of a mile, that might be something that we do down the road.”