CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR is a sport known for speed and once known to be slow on the forefront of inclusion, appealing mostly to white southerners.
Yolanda Lucas, a fan of the sport said her first race was intimidating.
"The first time going to NASCAR,” said Lucas, “I have to admit when you first see all of those Confederate flags, I was immediately feeling unwanted.”
The organization is now switching gears to ramp up diversity on the speedway and behind the barriers as well.
Last June, NASCAR hired Brandon Thompson for the newly created role of Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion.
WCNC Charlotte’s Billie Jean Shaw spoke with Thompson about his new role.
"I’m here to be able to change the culture of a sport.” Said Thompson. “To make sure first and most of all that we as an employer and as a company are doing the right thing when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion."
Thompson, a 17-year-industry veteran was promoted to the new role amid this summer’s worldwide Black Lives Matter protests. Shortly before settling into the new role, NASCAR banned Confederate Flags from all race tracks. Thompson says a number of drivers and employees have demanded the change for years.
"The banning of the Confederate was not an effort to exclude anyone but an effort to include everyone,” Thompson said. “Kudos to a lot of employees who really rallied hard in support of that decision as well.”
Bubba Wallace, the sport’s only full-time black driver was one of the people who led the charge in getting the Confederate flag banned.
In September, NBA legend Michael Jordan partnered with Danny Hemlin to announce 23-11, a new race team for this upcoming season, with Bubba Wallace as the driver.
The “23” is a nod to Jordan’s former jersey number. Jordan is now the first Black principal owner of a NASCAR team since the 1970s.
However, while these are all new developments, what you may be surprised to learn is that NASCAR has been on track with diversity and inclusion for years.
"NASCAR has had a diversity office in some way shape or form for the going back probably the better part of 15 or so years,” Thompson said.
Over the last two decades, the sport has operated " Drive for Diversity", an academy-style development program for women, ethnically diverse drivers and pit crew members
Products of the program include Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez. There’s also a diversity internship program that serves as a pipeline to hire diverse top academic achieving college grads.
Thompson, himself is a graduate of the program and his new position plans to go full speed with more inclusive diverse opportunities.
“The coming years will be very exciting,” Thompson said.