NASCAR's Inclusion Efforts Create a Fan Out of Alvin Kamara

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Matt Weaver
·4 min read
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Photo credit: Chris Graythen - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chris Graythen - Getty Images

From Autoweek

Alvin Kamara was always drawn to the bright colors and fast cars of the NASCAR Cup Series, but it took the world turning upside down for the New Orleans Saints running back to give it a shot.

He watched his first races once the season resumed from the pandemic shutdown last summer, and frequently took opinions and questions about the sport to his social media channels.

He quickly realized that NASCAR was so much more than just fast cars going in circles.

"I really sat down and was like, 'Alright, let me see what’s really going on, let me watch it and give it a chance – try to really understand it,'" Kamara told reporters on Friday. "I’m really listening to what they’re talking about – and I realized that there’s really more than what meets the eye when it comes to NASCAR."

Kamara attended his first race in June at Homestead-Miami Speedway to support the social justice movement championed by Bubba Wallace in the aftermath of NASCAR's confederate flag ban.

"It's surprising because this is not a sport that generally someone like me, or someone who looks like me, would be into. I'm just being realistic," Kamara said. "But everybody is nice, so open, welcome and opening their arms to me to their world. I feel like I'm a part of it now."

That couldn’t be truer than this weekend when Kamara sponsors a car for the first time -- the JD Motorsports No. 6 driven by Ryan Vargas.

Photo credit: NASCAR on NBC
Photo credit: NASCAR on NBC

The 20-year-old just began his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series but is short on funding to remain competitive through November. He reached out for all potentially interested parties through Twitter on Monday and that request found its way to the NFL superstar.

Kamara's juice bar chain, 'The Big Squeezy' will be on the car on Saturday at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.

Photo credit: JD Motorsports
Photo credit: JD Motorsports

It’s the latest example of a high-profile celebrity from sports and pop culture investing into the sport as a response to NASCAR’s latest push towards equality and inclusiveness. Kamara joins NBA legend Michael Jordan, who launched 23XI Racing alongside Denny Hamlin to field a car for Wallace this season, and musician Pitbull, who joined the Trackhouse Racing ownership group in January.

Kamara says he believes NASCAR is now open to everyone after banning the Confederate flag and the opportunity for Wallace to drive a championship caliber race car this season.

“It’s one of those things where I feel like – I don’t think this was a place where a lot of us felt comfortable being,” Kamara said. “I had a perception of what NASCAR was before I was involved. You see that flag, you see the scope of what’s going on … One bad apple spoils the bunch. You see certain things and you’re like, ‘No, that’s not anywhere I need to be at.’

“But fast forward, and I’m getting involved and I’m seeing what’s going on, seeing the leadership from the top to the bottom – starting with upper personnel, talking to (NASCAR President) Steve (Phelps) and his staff and his crew. Everybody is so open and welcoming. At first, I had some withdrawal from it. Even when I went to (Homestead), I was, ‘Alright, let me just stay on my side – I’ll introduce (myself).’

“But everybody was so welcoming: ‘Man, we love that you’re here! Are you really interested?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ We got a conversation going and flowing, I’m meeting fans, interacting with people, and I’m like ‘Oh, this is a safe space. This is not what I thought it was. I was pleasantly surprised.'”

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Vargas is Hispanic and a product of the 2018 Drive for Diversity class. He’s also an underdog with an underfunded team and a champion of the sport’s diversity mission.

The partnership was a natural fit.

“To see just where the sport is going in terms of its diversity efforts, I mean, it’s incredible,” said Vargas, who’s competing for Xfinity Series rookie of the year honors. “You see a lot of people back drivers like Bubba (Wallace). You see a lot of people back drivers like Daniel Suárez. You see people starting to back drivers like me.

“It takes a lot for people to start believing in each driver. For me, last year, I only ran nine races. The other races, I was a tire guy, a road crew guy. It takes a lot of believing in me. For people like Alvin to jump on board and support this team and support myself, it goes a lot farther than many people think.”