University City

NASCAR teaches the drive for success

The monotony of the school week was broken Monday when students at Vance High School were greeted by racecars, drivers and NASCAR representatives.

The NASCAR 2011 Fueling Dreams Tour made a pit stop at the school to teach students about opportunities for success in the motorsports industry.

About 200 juniors and seniors at Vance spent the morning learning about the motorsports industry by listening to a presentation, talking to drivers, playing on racecar simulators and viewing the No. 6 Army racecar.

"There are so many opportunities out there for students. It may not be right in front of them, so (the event) is helping to plant the seed," said Alejandra Diaz-Calderon, NASCAR account executive in diversity affairs.

This is the Fueling Dreams Tour's second year, in which it is visiting more than 20 schools and wrapping up in the Charlotte area, Diaz-Calderon said.

"The purpose is to expose young people to motorsports," said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR vice president of public affairs and multicultural development. "But the bigger message is to encourage high school students to stay in school and continue on the path to success."

A part of the Fueling Dreams Tour, the NASCAR Fan Experience High School Outreach program is tailored to fit each school's curriculum and teaches students about opportunities in the motorsports industry and informs them of available internships, mentorships and scholarships sponsored by NASCAR.

The event helps to identify students interested in becoming race-car drivers and provides them the tools to meet their goals. The NASCAR program is also used as a reward for excelling students.

This year, NASCAR partnered with Revolution Racing and the U.S. Army to put on the presentation.

Students were introduced to minority drivers Darrell Wallace Jr., 17, of Concord and Mackena Bell, 24, of Carson City, Nev.

Both racers are part of the Revolution Racing Drive For Diversity program, a development initiative for minority and female drivers and crew members. The two also recently finished filming the BET reality television show "Changing Lanes," which will premier Sept.1.

"We just want to talk to young teens about what it means to be a driver," said Wallace.

Wallace began racing at age 9 and has won multiple awards throughout his career, including Rookie of the Year honors in the 2010 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. He also won his first start in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Greenville-Pickens Speedway on March 27, 2010, becoming the youngest winner and the first African-American to win in series history.

The Concord native's advice to students hoping to enter the motorsports industry is to listen to their peers, stay focused and stick to their goals.

As for breaking into the industry, Bell said young minorities "have to have a tough skin, because people are always trying to put you down."

She said it is especially hard to be female in a male-dominated sport. Bell's career success includes the title of Legends division Rookie of the Year at Champion Speedway in 2005, making her the youngest driver and the only female to win in track history.

"I am fortunate enough to race with this team and show the opportunities involved in this sport," said Bell.

Her advice to those students hoping to go into motorsports is to stay in school and surround themselves with positive, supportive individuals.

For Vance High School Spanish teacher Rick Whitmore, this is the second year his class has participated.

"My students need role models, and I hope they see that today," said Whitmore.

One of Whitmore's students, Uju Nwador, a junior, said she watches NASCAR occasionally, but at the event she just wanted to have fun.

The Fueling Dreams Tour finished the week at Garinger, McLeod Center and West Charlotte high schools.

"I hope they come away with the understanding and value of a good education and the skills (as to) how they can apply it," said Jadotte.

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