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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Today NASCAR celebrated the outstanding achievements of ground-breaking individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to the advancement of diversity initiatives at the sixth annual NASCAR Diversity Awards Luncheon.
"At the luncheon, we have an opportunity to celebrate a few of the people and organizations whose dedication and commitment are shining examples of our industry understanding the importance of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our sport," said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR vice president of public affairs and multicultural development.” From the competitors on tracks to the employee’s across our offices, NASCAR is more diverse than ever and we have positioned ourselves to place the sport in front of new audiences like never before.”
During a ceremony held at The DAYTONA 500 Club at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR recognized the following individuals and organizations across the industry:
NASCAR Diverse Driver: Kyle Larson
In his first season of NASCAR competition, Kyle Larson – a Japanese-American from Elk Grove, Calif. – raced into the record books in impressive fashion. In 2012, Kyle scored two wins and 12 top 10s in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He capped his season off with Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors en route to bringing home Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity’s first series championship. Kyle became just the third driver in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East history to capture the championship and Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the same season.
Kyle signed on with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and will make his national series debut this season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series where he has a full-time ride with Turner Scott Motorsports. He has already been to Victory Lane once in 2013 when he won the opening race of the UNOH Battle At The Beach on Monday, Feb. 18.
NASCAR Diverse Crew Member Award: Tesfa Lee
The NASCAR Pit Crew Development Program Presented by Sprint is designed to identify, coach, train and develop minority athletes who possess the skill, ability and attitude to be a successful NASCAR pit crew member. Today’s crew member award winner, Tesfa Lee, exemplifies the desire and talent the program was created to develop.
When Tesfa Lee showed up to the 2009 Combine with very little background in NASCAR the coaching team did not know what to expect. He proved to be a fast learner and in seven months had already started working with a team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Tesfa has followed that up with consistent improvement and has gained excellent experience as part of several championship-winning teams. In 2010, he was part of the Germain Racing team that won the NASCAR Camping World Truck championship with Todd Bodine. Then last year, he was a member on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s NASCAR Nationwide Series team that won the title for Roush Fenway Racing. In 2013, Tesfa will continue his great work with Roush Fenway as a member of Trevor Bayne’s No. 21 NASCAR Sprint Cup and No. 6 NASCAR Nationwide Series crews.
NASCAR Diversity Internship Program Award: Stacey Houston
Stacey Houston, a senior at Davidson College (N.C.), interned in Charlotte, N.C., with the Market Research Group in the NASCAR Marketing Department. During the course of his internship, Stacey worked on a variety of projects, one of which was the development of a database that allows the department to create more impactful and meaningful questionnaires for the official NASCAR fan council.
Institution Award: Ten80
The Ten80 Student Racing Challenge is a project-based STEM curriculum and annual competition league that provides students with professional development opportunities in related disciplines. Ten80 Student Racing Challenge teams are mini-race teams that compete using a 1:10 scale electric radio-controlled car. This program has helped thousands of students not only develop a passion for NASCAR and motorsports but also to cement their interest in careers based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
NASCAR Partner Award: Octagon
As the agency of record for several of NASCAR’s key partners including Sprint and Sunoco, Octagon has diligently worked with NASCAR to create and support initiatives that help to expose the sport to new audiences in unique ways. Octagon’s dedication has led the company to annually bring on an intern from the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program, a commitment that has given several minority students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the sport.
NASCAR Young Racer Award: Ryleigh Lemonds
Nine-year-old Ryleigh Lemonds is making her mark as a future driver to watch. During 2012, Ryleigh competed in 29 races and wheeled off 10 wins, 27 top 5s and 29 top 10s, winning on five tracks in three states. Ryleigh’s epic season ended with her winning the Langley Speedway Bandolero Track championship and the 2012 INEX Virginia State Bandolero Bandit championship.
In 2013, Ryleigh will be a developmental driver with Rev Racing, participating in arena racing and driving one of the team’s Bandolero cars at select tracks throughout the southeast.
NASCAR Industry Ambassador: Bryan Sperber
As president of the Phoenix International Raceway, Bryan Sperber sets the strategic direction for one of NASCAR’s most popular tracks. Under Sperber’s leadership, Phoenix International Raceway has become imbedded in the local community and continuously seeks to form partnerships with minority organizations such as the Arizona Hispanic Chamber Of Commerce. In 2013, Phoenix International Raceway will host the NASCAR Toyota Series’ inaugural race in the United States, where some of Mexico’s best drivers will compete during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend.