As NASCAR returns to Kansas Speedway, ‘Drive for Diversity’ is on the fast track

Bubba Wallace remembers scuffling from track to track in the Southeast and wondering if he had a future as a race car driver. The competition was intense, and opportunities for minorities to succeed were scarce.

Eventually, Wallace found a lifeline through NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Development Program. The program, now celebrating its 20th year, was devised to train and provide resources for ethnically diverse drivers and crew members.

Fast-forward to today, and it’s apparent the program is fulfilling its promise.

“I think back to 2010, 2011 just trying to find my way, not knowing which way was up down, left or right, and now we’re here,” said Wallace, who broke barriers with a landmark NASCAR Cup win at Talladega in 2021 and is now driving the No. 23 Toyota for 23 XI Racing, co-owned by NASCAR star Denny Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan.

“Looking at drivers who have come through the program, it’s been quite a few. It’s been cool to see, and now following the younger kids coming up, it’s been a tool for success for a lot of people.”

Drive for Diversity grads are winning

So far, four graduates of the Drive for Diversity have won races in 2024: Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez have won Cup races and Nick Sanchez and Rajah Caruth have won NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series races.

Larson, of Elk Grove, California, and of Japanese descent, was the first graduate of the program to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship, doing so in 2021 for Hendrick Motorsports.

The only Asian-American driver competing regularly in the NASCAR Cup Series, he has won 24 Cup races and will attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 later this month.

Suárez, born in Monterrey, Mexico, made history when he won the 2016 Xfinity championship and became the first Mexican-born driver to win a race in the NASCAR Cup Series when he took the checkered flag at Sonoma in 2022.

Now in his third season driving for Trackhouse Racing, Suárez won the Cup race at Atlanta this year..

Caruth, of Washington, D.C., became the third Black driver to win a NASCAR national series race, joining Wallace and Scott, after capturing the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on March 1 at Las Vegas for Rev Racing.

A 2021 graduate of the Diversity Program, Carruth grew up racing online and was able to transition to a real-life car after joining the program in 2019.

Sanchez, a Cuban American from Miami and 2022 graduate of the program, won the 2024 season-opening NASCAR trucks race at Daytona, giving Rev Racing its first win in the series. Sanchez also won ARCA races at Kansas Speedway in 2021 and 2022.

“Daytona was pretty cool because it’s just going to put more eyes on Rev Racing, more eyes on the program, and showing that it works and it’s proven,” said Sanchez, who will drive the No. 2 Chevrolet for Rev Racing in Saturday night’s trucks race at Kansas Speedway.

“You never say never, but it definitely would have been a lot harder for me to break into the NASCAR ranks without the program. Now, our goal is to do it on Sundays (in the Cup series).”

Wallace, of Mobile, Ala., landed a full-time ride in the Cup Series in 2018 and three years later won at Talladega, becoming first Black driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race since Wendell Scott won in Jacksonville in 1963.

And in 2022, Wallace won the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway, becoming the first Black driver in history to win two Cup races.

Wallace, 30, took greater pride in his win at Kansas in 2022, when he had to hold off a hard-charging Hamlin to the checkered flag, than he did his ground-breaking, rain-shortened win at Talladega.

“That was a solidifying moment for me, being able to win like that,” Wallace said of the Kansas race. “You had to race for that one, you had to earn that one. That was a little more special than Talladega, that’s for sure. I’ve been chasing that feeling for the last two years, trying to get back to that moment.”

Meet the Drive’s driving force

The Drive for Diversity Program had an uncertain future during its initial years until NASCAR brought in Max Siegel to manage it in 2009.

Siegel had been serving as president of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., where he was the first Black president of a major team.

“When I took over, there was a lot of conversation that were no drivers of diverse descent, and there was only one pit crew member,” said Siegel. “I grew up a mile from the track in Indianapolis, and when I was younger, I had no idea these kinds of opportunities were available to people of color. “

Siegel bought two small race teams and combined them to form Rev Racing, which provides opportunities for aspiring minority drivers, pit crew members and office staff.

Rev Racing reaches out to local tracks and go-kart facilities and screens 100-150 applicants. The candidates are invited to an annual combine where they are tested on driving ability, communication skills, physical fitness and how they handle themselves with others.

Then, a committee rates the participants before six drivers and 10 to 20 pit crew members are selected to compete in lower-level series with the hopes of advancing to NASCAR.

‘I realized the only way to have control of being able to support people who historically haven’t had access is to own a team,” Siegel said. “I felt it was necessary to take over and be committed to make sure it would happen. I’m proud of their success.”

A sizable personal investment

Siegel and his wife, Jennifer, have invested about $5 million of their personal funds into the program, and though they receive some assistance from NASCAR, Chevrolet and companies that help with parts, supplies and technology, he continues to shoulder most of the load.

In addition to owning Rev Racing, Siegel is an attorney and chief executive of USA Track and Field. His wife is a pediatric dental surgeon.

“Whatever we raise or don’t raise on an annual basis, my wife and I have primarily underwritten any kind of shortfall over the years,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate professionally to be able to support initiatives like this.

“We know how talented these young drivers are, and we know if there wasn’t a platform to support them, it would be hard for them to compete. “

Siegel doesn’t resent the fact that other deeper-funded organizations aren’t contributing more, though teams like Hendrick Motorsports and Trackhouse have benefited by hiring such drivers as Larson, Suarez and Wallace.

“To be honest, we’ve been a pretty consistent feeder of talent,” said Siegel, who has two young drivers, Andres Perez De Lara and Lavar Scott, ranked in the top five in the ARCA standings. “My hope has always been our efforts would be a catalyst and encouragement for others in the industry to do more.”

‘Everything is on the rise’

Caruth, a senior at Winston-Salem State University, drives for Spire Motorsports, which has an affiliation with Rev Racing.

He also has sponsorship from, and will be in the No. 71 Chevrolet in the trucks race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday.

“It‘s really the only reason I was able to go from sim racing to real life,” Caruth said of the Drive for Diversity Program. “Aside from that, I didn‘t have any path to race in real life …

“They not only gave me my shot in 2019, they also gave me the time to develop. They allowed me to grow. I showed up every day, trying to get better, working on the cars, learning how to race. They‘re the only reason I got to this point now.”

Wallace has taken a particular interest in Caruth’s career and has tried to mentor him on his NASCAR journey.

“I’ve been more hands-on with Rajah, for sure,” Wallace said. “He’s been a sponge. He wants to learn how to be faster and get better each day. He’s always asking the right questions, and a lot of questions. That’s what it takes.

“It takes a student to be coachable to put it all together and make it work, so watching him win at Vegas was special for everybody involved, and really special for me, because I remember being at his first Legends cars race, his first ARCA race, his first Xfinity race, his first trucks race.”

To Wallace, it’s just as important that the Drive for Diversity program continues to develop members in all areas of a race team.

“You look at pit crew members, which have been diverse for a handful of years but haven’t been spotlighted,” Wallace said. “Behind the scenes at our shop it’s well diverse and other race teams are going that route.

“There are a lot of things we can do better in spotlighting the career paths. If you can’t be a race car driver, there are a lot more avenues you can go down and be a part of NASCAR and race teams. Everything is on the rise if we keep doing our part.”