Brandon Hutchinson, Atlanta Motor Speedway executive vice president and general manager, meets with students from Morehouse College's Journalism and Sports Program prior to the NASCAR Xfinity Series Rinnai 250.

HBCU students get crash course through NASCAR experience

HAMPTON, Ga. — Loud, clanking noises filled the air as various pit crews prepared for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Rinnai 250. Students were able to see tires that appeared twice the size of average tires and cars without conventional windows. Towering pit crew members filled the area that looked like they could compete with Duke’s 6-foot-7, 285-pound star basketball player Zion Williamson.

Many words in the dictionary could be used to describe the day’s activities, however "ordinary" is certainly not one of them. For the first time in each of their lives, these Morehouse College journalism students had the opportunity to attend a NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

This was something completely foreign to the group of 15 black students from professor Ron Thomas’ sports reporting class. The average person may be surprised to know that a group of students coming from a historically black college that is rich in black history and culture would willingly choose to attend a NASCAR event. However, the students had an experience that most considered to be unforgettable.

Students had the opportunity to speak with Caryn Grant, NASCAR multicultural development manager, who gave information about the organization’s diversity initiatives, including the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program. The program recruits students with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and offers positions in various areas such as finance, public relations and human resources. The most recent intern cohort consisted of 36 highly competitive students from various schools across the country.

Throughout the day, students appeared to become more comfortable and interested in their surroundings. While it was nothing like the diverse, ethnocentric campus environment they were accustomed to, students were pleasantly surprised to see more people that looked like them than they had previously expected.

"My thoughts on NASCAR in the past were that they weren’t trying to be inclusive, that they were more focused on maintaining their current customer base," Morehouse student Parker Owens said.

Morehouse College student Parker Owens writes an article during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"My thoughts on NASCAR in the past were that they weren’t trying to be inclusive, that they were more focused on maintaining their current customer base."

While the journalism students were experiencing many firsts throughout their day, they also got the chance to speak with a NASCAR veteran who has achieved various milestones in his career. Pit crew veteran and current Motor Racing Network host Dion Williams, a former Division I linebacker, was the first African-American crew member at Hendrick Motorsports as a part of Jeff Gordon’s pit crew. He also is the first African-American host for Motor Racing Network.

When discussing why he’s worked closely with NASCAR for the better part of 15 years, Williams pointed to his ability to attract and develop high-level athletes as members of the pit crew.

"This is a 10-15 year career that can allow high-level athletes the ability to make six figures within five years in the industry," he said.

While the students from the Morehouse Journalism and Sports Program still may not consider themselves experts when it comes to NASCAR racing, one thing became clear by the end of the day. NASCAR has begun to make serious efforts to create a more diverse employee base representative of the vast melting pot we currently all reside in.

Kayden Molock is a junior political science major at Morehouse College in Atlanta.