By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
As fast as the cars that go around the track, observers have been quick to point out what for years had been a glaring fact about NASCAR: It’s a white male club. Slowly, however, that’s been changing, and it has become increasingly more unfair to place that label on what is perhaps America’s largest spectator sport.
On Thursday, Dec. 6, NASCAR announced six drivers for its Drive for Diversity Class of 2019, unveiling a group that officials said blends talented newcomers with returning veterans.
Chase Cabre, Ernie Francis Jr., Rubén García Jr. and Nick Sanchez return to the driver development program next season and they’ll be joined by first-time participants Brooke Storer and Gracie Trotter.
The six were chosen from the 12 invitees to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Combine last October at New Smyrna Speedway and Bethune-Cookman University.
They will compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and Whelen All-American Series next year for Rev Racing.
“It’s an honor to be accepted into this program for this next year,” Ernie Francis, Jr. told NNPA Newswire.
“I think people used to think NASCAR wasn’t diverse but the past couple of years has been very different with folks like Daniel Suárez and Bubba Wallace, I think we’re showing there is diversity,” Francis said.
The Drive for Diversity program counts as proof that NASCAR continues its mission for faces that aren’t just white and male, he said.
“This program has brought in programs from all types of backgrounds,” said Francis, a second-timer for the program and a five-time Trans Am Series Champion.
The program began in 2004 and participants already include Kyle Larson, Daniel Suárez, and Wallace – each of whom are racing in the Cup Series, NASCAR’s top division.
While those three are 25, 25, and 24-years-old respectively, Francis is still just 20 and all are a testament to NASCAR’s burgeoning youth movement.
“This year’s class features six highly talented drivers who each possess an impressive blend of skill and experience,” said Jusan Hamilton, NASCAR senior manager of racing operations and event management.
“We’re thrilled to see these drivers develop throughout the 2019 season and enjoy success both on and off the race track.”
The 2019 campaign will mark the 10th season that Max Siegel’s Rev Racing organization has fielded cars for the Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program.
The team has amassed 19 wins in the K&N Pro Series.
Francis, who will continue to run in the Trans Am Series while fielding a Late Model for Rev Racing in the Whelen All-American Series, is scheduled to participated in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East road courses.
His interest in racing began at the tender age of 4, watching his dad, Ernie Francis, Sr., he said.
By 14, Francis was already on the track.
During his rookie season with Rev Racing, Francis earned one top 5, one top 10 and one pole award in just two races. In 2017, Francis also had a career-first start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
At the age of 16, he became the youngest Trans Am Series Champion and he’s the winningest driver in 50 years of the series.
Other career highlights include the Trans Am Rookie of the Year Award, the 2016 FARA Miami 500 Champion, and the Pirelli World Challenge Rookie of the Year Award.
“I’ve been around racing my whole life,” Francis said. “I have a passion that I developed at a young age because of my dad and I love this and I will have that passion forever,” he said.
Of the Drive for Diversity Program, Francis offered praise to NASCAR.
“NASCAR needs to get younger and more diverse drivers out there and that’s what they’re doing,” he said. “And, the program has worked out pretty well.”