NASCAR Diversity Test Wraps Up at South Boston
Impressive Field is Assembled for Two-Day Program
TUESDAY

The fifth annual Drive For Diversity Testing & Evaluation Combine finished Tuesday with its second straight day of intense competition at South Boston (Va.) Speedway Monday. of the event.
“Today we saw an impressive group of drivers on the track,” said Marcus Jadotte, who oversees NASCAR’s diversity initiative as its managing director of public affairs. “NASCAR is proud to support the 2007 Drive For Diversity combine and the 2008 Drive For Diversity Class. NASCAR is the Great American sport and one of the aims of this program is to help it look more like America.”

More than 200 applicants were narrowed down to the 24 that are taking part in the combine, which concludes Tuesday. From there, eight drivers will be selected to compete in NASCAR’s Grand National Division and Whelen All-American Series.

The Grand National Division is NASCAR’s top developmental series, and is the last step before drivers move up to the NEXTEL Cup Series, Busch Series or Craftsman Truck Series. Drive For Diversity is run by Access Marketing & Communications.

“We have very strong field this year because of the deeper and more experiences pool of drivers that applied,” Jadotte said. “And it’s reflected in the strongest field of drivers we’ve had here.”
There was quite a field assembled at South Boston on Monday.
Among the returnees is Jesus Hernandez of Fresno, Calif. Hernandez was part of the program on the weekly level and again last year when he ran in the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch East Series. He’s hoping another impressive showing at the combine will help him progress up the ladder.

“You come into this, there’s a different pressure involved from being part of it, coming back and then moving forward with your career,” Hernandez said. “I think it went well. I think the consistency was there, which is ultimately what they’re looking for.”

Three identically prepared cars were used in the on-track process.

Nineteen-year-old Alli Owens grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla. before moving to North Carolina to futher her racing career and has applied to be part of the program each year it’s operated. This was the first time she was selected to attend the combine. The selective nature of the program helped Owens’ appreciation of just what it takes to make the cut.

“It made me respect it a lot more,” Owens said. “It shows NASCAR is serious about its program. They believe in it and want to make it work. Whether I get chosen or not, it’s one of the greatest things I’ll ever get to do.”

Maine native Katie Hagar, 21, is attending her second combine. She did not make the final class last year.

“The pressure is just the same,” Hagar said. “That doesn’t go away anytime you have to prove yourself in front of a large group of people that can open up some doors and some opportunities.”

Hagar said the previous experience in the combine did help her know what to expect from the high-pressure atmosphere.

“I was just focusing on nailing my points. I just wanted to show them that I can do this and they need a female in the Busch East that can wheel it.”

Other drivers that took part in the driving Monday included Joe Henderson, Molly Rhoads, Trista Stevenson, Paulie Harraka, Peter Hernandez, Jill George, Alison Quick, Kristin Bumbera, and Ruben Pardo.





The second half of the 24-driver pool from different forms of racing took the track for evaluation, while those who drove Monday participated in the media portion of the event.

Michael Cherry was among the drivers who attended the combine last year but did not make the final cut. The 18-year-old from Valrico, Fla. returned with another year of seat time and ready to take the test.

“I really didn’t think I showed them everything I had last time,” Cherry said. “This year was a lot better. When I got that phone call (last month) I was ready to come back.”

More than 200 applicants were narrowed down to the 24 who are taking part in the combine. From there, eight drivers will be selected to compete in NASCAR’s Grand National Division and Whelen All-American Series.

The Grand National Division is NASCAR’s top developmental series, and is the last step before drivers move up to the NEXTEL Cup Series, Busch Series or Craftsman Truck Series. Drive For Diversity is run by Access Marketing & Communications.

Jessica Helberg was part of the program last season in the Whelen All-American Series at All-American Speedway in California. The 20-year-old Rohnert Park, California driver knew that just getting back to South Boston was an achievement in itself.

“It’s an honor to be among the two dozen drivers who were chosen by notables in the sport,”
Helberg said. “To me, that really justifies all the hard work I’ve put into my racing career. Even
though it’s a unique opportunity, it’s an earned opportunity.”

Other drivers who took part in the driving Tuesday included Chris Bristol (Columbus, Ohio),
Tiffany Daniels (Smithfield, Va.), Mike Gallegos (Wheat Ridge, Colo.), Lindsey King (Cherry
Valley, Calif.), Danny Martin (Sarasota, Fla.), Lloyd Mack (Los Angeles), Marisa Niederauer
(Plainedge, N.Y.), Jose Luis Ramirez (Mexico City), Jonathan Smith (Beacon Falls, Conn.),
and Michelle Theriault (Bristol, Conn.)

Three identically prepared cars were used in the on-track process.

It’s the third straight year the combine has been held at the 4/10-mile NASCAR-sanctioned
track.

“It was an honor to host the Combine one time; it’s really an honor to host three,” said Nick
Igdalsky, the senior vice president of Mattco Inc., which runs South Boston Speedway and
Pocono Raceway. “We try to do everything we can to make everybody feel at home and give
the competitors and team owners a relaxed atmosphere.

“We fully support NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity, and we’ll do everything in our power to help
that cause.”

MONDAY

The strongest field of drivers in the history of the Drive For Diversity program took the track for
the fifth annual Testing & Evaluation Combine at South Boston (Va.) Speedway Monday.

Half of the 24 drivers participated in the on-track evaluation. The remaining 12 drivers took part in a media portion of the event.
Chris Bristol gets pointers from Drive for Diversity mentor Wendell Scott Jr. before taking the track (Grant Halverson/Getty Images/NASCAR Photos)
Marisa Niederauer observes the action during the Drive for Diversity test.