Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Combine set for Friday

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 07: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, pits during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – Athleticism is a given for participants in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity National Pit Crew Combine, which takes place on Friday at the sanctioning body’s research-and-development center in Concord, N.C.

After all, each of the 17 aspirants has a strong background in a sport other than racing. And the 13 men and four women have already been through tryouts at six universities: Alcorn State, Arizona State, Bethune-Cookman, Norfolk State, San Diego State and Virginia State.

The question then becomes which of the athletes will adapt most quickly to the specialized skills needed for pit crew work in NASCAR racing, as Phil Horton, director of athletic performance at Rev Racing puts them through a four-hour skills competition.

Sophia Ortega from Highland, Calif., may have an edge. She played softball for Bethune-Cookman, not far from Daytona International Speedway.

“When I came to Daytona, I realized how big the speedway was, and when I went on a tour, I was definitely interested in it,” Ortega said.

Last year 10 of the 18 hopefuls were selected for the crew member development program at Rev Racing, the competition arm of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program.  And the prospects for advancement are excellent.

All told, 35 NASCAR Drive for Diversity pit crew graduates currently are working in NASCAR racing, 25 at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level. In fact, three alumni—Raphael Diaz, Kevin Richardson and Mike Russell—were pit crew members for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. during his recent victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

“As we saw with last year’s inaugural national combine, the caliber of athletes now competing for opportunities to train with NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity is stronger than ever,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations.

“As the program grows, it’s attracting top-quality talent and competitors who we believe have the potential to excel at the highest level of NASCAR.”

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.