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Race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) kicked-off the first NASCAR Opinion Leader Initiative of the year. Created to build greater awareness, participation, and support of NASCAR, the program welcomed several Atlanta-based student and professional organizations to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series double header on Saturday.
Organizations included Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta Association of Black Journalists Student Consortium, Black Sports Online, Honda Generators and Minorities in Sports.
A group of more than twenty representatives received all-access passes, exclusive meet and greets as well as pit road and garage tours. Pleasantly overwhelmed by the excitement of the race-day experience, the group also met Atlanta Motor Speedway representatives including AMS track President, Ed Clark, NASCAR Diversity team members, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, Jim Cassidy, and NASCAR K&N West Pro Series driver Salvatore Iovino.
Iovino races full-time in the NASCAR K&N West Pro Series and won the Most Popular Driver award last season for the series. Iovino does not belong to a minority group, but spent some time answering questions from eager students regarding NASCAR’s racing traditions and his involvement in the sport.
Some of the questions also came from Cecelia Townes, creator and writer for GladiatHERS; Deontay Morris, an analytics professional for Vantedge; Nicole Powell, writer and creator of The Sportstyle; and Taunita Stephenson, former Assistant Commissioner of Partnerships for the SIAC.
“What generation racer are you?” they asked.
“How long have you and your family been racing?”
Beginning his career in 2012 with NHRA drag racing, Iovino gained experience through various tracks on the west coast. He transitioned over to stock racing a few years later and joined the Patriot Motorsports Group Driver Development program.
“This might be of shock, but I don’t belong to a generation of racers within my family, and I have only been stock car racing since the Daytona 500 last season,” Iovino said.
Iovino, competed in seven of the 14 NASCAR K&N Pro West Series races and finished 18 overall in a field of 57 last season. Prior to moving into K&N West, he competed in NASCAR Whelen-Modified Series and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
“Whether you are new in this sport or have been racing for years, it’s a very challenging sport,” Iovino said. “Dedication, will-power, responsibility, communication and promoting a positive image are very critical to your success.”
The NASCAR Opinion Leader Initiative group heard similar themes of hard work and commitment from NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 18 truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Gragson spent a few minutes interviewing with multicultural media members and ended up with 20 new fans.
The NASCAR Opinion Leader Initiative strives to continue introducing diverse collegiate and professional organizations to the sport. Building local relationships within various markets and local tracks remains key to keeping NASCAR relevant, interactive and welcoming to all.