Drive for Diversity program shifts gears
At first glance, the most striking aspect of NASCAR's 2012 Drive for Diversity class is its size — six drivers.
A closer look, however, reveals the top-to-bottom quality of the program's smallest class to date. The size of the class doesn't reflect a shrinking of the talent pool; rather, it represents a paradigm shift in the direction of the program.
Rev Racing (formerly Revolution Racing), which will field four teams in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East this season, is channeling its efforts toward a smaller number of drivers at a higher level of racing in order to expedite their progress.
"We took a hard look at how we can accelerate the development, and concentrating the resources at the higher series and continuing to bring in the highest caliber talent was the route to go," Rev Racing team owner Max Siegel told the NASCAR Wire Service.
Ryan Gifford, 22, from Winchester, Tenn., is back for a third season with Rev Racing, and he can appreciate the shift in focus.
"I think that concentrating their efforts on a smaller group is going to be really good from a competition standpoint, and I can only look for better things than last year," said Gifford, who in 2010 became the first African-American driver to win a pole in the East Series.
Gifford has another reason for optimism. Rev Racing placed three drivers in the top 10 in the East Series last year, headed by second-place Darrell Wallace Jr., winner of three races, and Sergio Pena, also a three-time winner. Together they won six of the 12 East races last year.
Wallace expects to make his first start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Pena earned an East Series ride with Hattori Racing Enterprises for 2012. Paulie Harraka, another D4D alumnus, will compete for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series for newly formed Wauters Motorsports.
Gifford is gratified to see drivers emerge from the D4D pipeline into series that will bring them national exposure.
"To me, it shows that there are team owners out there who are looking for young drivers and wanting to put somebody younger in the sport, to bring new faces to the sport other than just recycling the same drivers over and over," Gifford told the NASCAR Wire Service.
In addition to Gifford, the 2012 class includes Jorge Arteaga, 25, from Aguascalientes, Mexico; returnee Mackena Bell, 21, from Carson City, Nev.; Trey Gibson, 19, from Easley, S.C.; Bryan Ortiz, 22, from Bayamon, Puerto Rico; and Kyle Larson, 19, from Elk Grove, Calif.
Bell and Gibson will race in the Whelen All-American Series for late models at a variety of tracks in the Southeast. The other four drivers will compete in the K&N Pro Series East.
Larson, who won 22 open-wheel features last year, finished third in the Jan. 14 Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., beating NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart and NASCAR Nationwide Series titlist Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the process.
To Siegel, the selection process for the 2012 class was more difficult than ever.
"What we are seeing is that the quality of the applicants is going up exponentially," Siegel said. "There were some people who pretty quickly distinguished themselves, but when we got to selecting the class, it was tough, because we had some pretty great people."
In addition to training drivers, the program also strives to bring diversity to the NASCAR garage through efforts to train and place crew members.
"We've placed 18 women or people of color over the last two years throughout the entire series, ARCA to Sprint Cup," Siegel said. Phil Horton (Rev Racing's strength and conditioning coach) is running the program.
"That was actually the first program that we brought in-house, training and actively out there placing. That program's been sailing along pretty great for the last three years."