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NASCAR Media Conference: Diversity Press Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference: Diversity Press Conference

Greg Calhoun
Magic Johnson
George Pyne
Tish Sheets
May 20, 2004


DIVERSITY PRESS CONFERENCE

JIM HUNTER: Good morning, everyone. Appreciate you all being here this morning. This is a very, very special day for all of us in NASCAR racing. All of our participants in the program today will be available after the press conference. We will have a question and answer session at the end of all the presentations. I want to recognize our chairman and CEO here this morning, Brian France; our president Mike Helton is here this morning, our senior VP Paul Brooks; and our VP of licensing and consumer, Mark Dyer, located here in Charlotte. Good to have you here with us this morning. I need to say this because I know I speak on behalf of everyone in this industry. Tonight Humpy Wheeler, all of you know, is going to be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. We're all proud of you. (Applause.) Now, if I could direct your attention to the screen, we'll get started. (Video presentation.) Please welcome at this time the chief operating officer of NASCAR, George Pyne.

GEORGE PYNE: Thanks, Jim. I'm excited to be here today to share with you NASCAR's vision for diversity. It's a vision that was laid out by our chairman and CEO Brian France. Brian has made diversity important to NASCAR because he knows that for NASCAR to continue to grow and prosper, NASCAR needs to look more like and represent the values of America. We're here under his leadership executing his programs today. The purpose of today is to share with you our vision. There are several reasons why diversity is important. Number one, it's the right thing to do. Number two, we believe that as NASCAR looks more like America, our sport will continue to grow. As we outreach to new consumers, everybody in our industry will benefit. We believe by having people from diverse backgrounds involved in our sport, our sport will be better. Let's talk to you a little bit about NASCAR's vision for diversity. What does that mean? There are really three key components to this program. This is a program that NASCAR leads. There are many other programs in the industry. We support those. But as a leader in the industry, we want to be proactive in the area of diversity. They break down into three areas. The first are on-track initiatives, programs designed to put people of color on the racetrack, giving them an equal opportunity to compete and show their talents. The second element is off-track programs, giving people an opportunity to experience career opportunities, whether they be legal, accounting, sales and marketing, engine building, fabrication. We're developing programs to provide all people with an opportunity for involvement in NASCAR. The third element, our consumer marketing programs, to build awareness and acceptance of NASCAR to people and women of diverse backgrounds. Let's talk a little bit about each one of those specifically today. Our Drive for Diversity program is a test program in its first year. Greg Calhoun is going to get up and talk to you about the significant progress we've made in the first year of our program. We're excited about it because it's giving people an opportunity to be on the racetrack. You're going to meet today some of the fine young men and women that are participating in this program and are given an opportunity to showcase their skills, along with the team owners that are now given an opportunity to showcase their skills and compete. Bill Lester to me is an American success story. A graduate of Cal Berkeley who had a six-figure job as an engineer, gave up his job to chase his dream and compete in NASCAR's national series. Last year Bill Lester finished 13th in points. To me, he's an example of what America is all about: chasing your dreams and providing an opportunity for yourself to reach your goals. He's an inspiration to all of us at NASCAR, and he has our full support moving forward. Also I want to recognize Joe Gibbs and Reggie White, their program, very similar to our Drive for Diversity program, which is a late-model stock car program where they're going out and finding minorities and women and giving them an opportunity to race at the late-model and short track level. We salute what Reggie is doing, JD. It's very important. We enthusiastically support their efforts, as well as all the other efforts made by Roush Racing and the industry. When these efforts succeed, we all succeed, we'll all be better. The next area we mentioned are off-track initiatives, giving people career opportunities, giving minority-owned businesses an opportunity to share in the success of NASCAR, and NASCAR to become better by virtue of their participation. NASCAR is instituting a supplier diversity program, consistent with that you'll see with other major corporations. We're going to be working ourselves in developing meaningful jobs, meaningful career paths, a feeder system so that people of color, minorities and women have an opportunity to showcase their skills in the front office. This year NASCAR will place 33 interns this summer from different colleges across America in the programs within our industry and give them an opportunity to showcase their skills. NASCAR right now has a tour that goes to historically black colleges, makes people aware of career opportunities on and off the racetrack. We're very pleased with that. We have a number of scholarship programs that are designed to give people an opportunity at different levels within our sport. Also the Urban Youth Racing School. I think Anthony Martin is here today, as an inspiration to all people. To me, I visited with Anthony and the team. I've been up to meet the children at the Urban Youth Racing School. It's really a program designed around NASCAR that makes people better. To give you a little feel for it, there's a thousand-person waiting list to be part of the school. They've had graduates from the school go on to Stanford, Harvard. It's a great and enthusiastic program that we're supporting. Of course, the NASCAR Technical Institute, developing scholarship programs there to provide people opportunities in the engine-building, fabrication and other competition-related, racing-related programs. The third element of our program is increasing consumer awareness of NASCAR through event marketing, entertainment marketing and reaching out to communities, making sure they understand that they're welcome, that we want them to participate, we want people to become NASCAR fans. We know this will work because we did a test program in Atlanta with a gentleman named Michael Malden. The response was terrific. We had five or six thousand people, predominantly African American, who enjoyed themselves in an interactive event themed around NASCAR. We see this as a great opportunity to let people know they're welcome into the NASCAR community and also a great way for NASCAR to give itself an opportunity for people to sample our sport. So in closing, we're committed, this is something I work on every day of the week. We're going to do it because it's right. We're going to do it because it's good for the sport. I think in the end we'll all be better. Appreciate everybody in the room, your enthusiasm and support. With that I'm going to pass it back to my good uncle, Jim Hunter.

JIM HUNTER: Please join me in welcoming NASCAR's director of diversity and special projects, Tish Sheets.

TISH SHEETS: Thanks, Jim. If believing in something is the basic ingredient in success, then NASCAR's diversity efforts are going to be enormously successful I believe, NASCAR believes, we all believe that we can turn NASCAR into a total reflection of American culture. Diversity is our No. 1 initiative. It's my privilege today to introduce one of NASCAR's biggest supporters in bringing our sport to All-Americans. Mr. Greg Calhoun of Access Marketing and Communications.

GREG CALHOUN: Thank you. Before we introduce our Drivers for Diversity program and our first-class participants, I'd like to share with you a brief video. (Video shown.) Our job at GMR and Access was trying to give minorities and women an opportunity to participate in the sport at this level. It started in 2003, we had a combine, drivers, crew members came out and participated. From that, we selected five drivers and six crew members. At this time I would like to introduce them to you all. When I introduce them, please hold your applause till the end. Y'all can remain standing until the drivers and crew members have been introduced. (Introductions.) This is our All-Star team. Join me in giving them a hand, please. (Applause.)

JIM HUNTER: You guys look sharp. George, I'm going to ask you to come back up here and introduce a very special guest.

GEORGE PYNE: Thanks, Jim. Magic Johnson's Hall of Fame career is well-known: NCAA championship at Michigan State as a freshman, five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, a dozen All-Star selections, and a three-time most valuable player. Additionally, he won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the heralded 1992 Dream Team. What might not be as well-known is his success as a businessman. He has championed investment in urban, underserved communities nationwide. Today magic is CEO of the Johnson Development Corporation, which leads by investments, not just in bricks and mortar, but in communities and people who call these communities home. Over the past 14 years, Magic Johnson has helped to revitalize communities and invigorate and empower people to give them hope. He has brought quality development with much-needed jobs for contractors, service for vendors, businesses and their employees. As part of his plan, magic has introduced major businesses such as Starbucks, Friday's and Magic's 24 hour sports fitness centers in urban and suburban communities across America. That amounts too real and meaningful impact. Through his company, Johnson currently has 70 Starbucks shops in 38 cities and 13 states across the country with a commitment to open up 125 stores by 2006. All of those stores are located in ethnically diverse neighborhoods, while many are located in underserved communities. He has also established Magic Johnson theaters with five locations nationwide: in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Cleveland and Harlem. He has two Friday's restaurants, one in Atlanta and one in Los Angeles. That kind of success is what led NASCAR to approach Magic Johnson. Last year NASCAR launched a search to identify a co-chair of our executive steering committee for diversity. Just about everyone we spoke to said Magic Johnson was our man. You know what, they were right. The first thing we learned about Magic is that he doesn't do anything halfway. From the moment NASCAR began talking to Magic Johnson, he insisted on playing an integral role in the development of our diversity initiatives. This insistence is what moved us most. We are committed to making our sport, on and off the racetrack, look more like America. No other social issue is more important for NASCAR to succeed and to grow. With Magic Johnson on board, with his unique vision and perspective, together we take yet another step to broaden our horizons. It's with a great sense of honor that I introduce Magic Johnson.

MAGIC JOHNSON: First of all, I want to say good morning to everybody. I am excited to be here and excited to have this wonderful opportunity to head up diversity for NASCAR. When you think about the NASCAR brand, it resonates everywhere. They have the No. 1 sports brand. I have the No. 1 urban brand. So bringing these two brands together, we hope that we can reach out to minorities across this country and introduce a wonderful sport that is already doing very, very, very well, and hopefully will do well in minority communities of the. I'd first like to thank the France family, as well as George and Tish, who I've had a wonderful relationship with, and Greg as well. I know you are wondering why Magic. I wondered that myself the first time they approached me. But it's because the fact that I have businesses in 65 cities, all in urban communities. I speak to urban America each and every day. I employ over 10,000 minorities, so I know what minorities want. The only thing I have to do now is to educate minorities on all these great programs that NASCAR already has in place. When we begin to think about the supplier program, think about the vendor program, you think about no question the driver and the crew program, you think about the college tour. That means more minorities can go to college. You think about the internship program. That means that more minorities can get summer jobs. That's what Magic Johnson is already about. So I'm not doing any of these things that I don't do each and every day. I have 225 minorities on scholarship now throughout America at different colleges. So I do that already every day. I give all those students a job every summer. So I do this every day. I'm looking forward to the challenge. The first thing I'll probably do is meet with all these great men and women that you got introduced to. There are more in the house that I will meet with. Reggie White and I will definitely sit down and talk. The only thing I'm really excited about is just the opportunity. You ask me how much money am I getting paid? Zero. So my heart is into this. It's not something that I'm getting paid to do. I wanted to do it, and I'm happy to do it because I think that this sport is so wonderful, that I think all minorities, once we educate them on it, will want to be a part of it. I like that speed, so I want to take that speed to our communities and let them know. So I'm here just to say I'm looking forward to this opportunity. I can't wait to get started. Let's go a little faster and faster and faster. I'm excited. Thank you.

JIM HUNTER: I never thought I'd be in the presence of two of the greatest athletes in the same room on the same day. That's a pat on the back to both of you. I've watched both of you play. We are just excited about this program. Now we're going to open it up for a question and answer session. We have people with microphones.

Q. George, you mentioned supplier diversity. Can you define that and tell us what that might look like?

GEORGE PYNE: Sure. We're working on a program right now that when NASCAR goes out to bid a project, could be a printing project, could be a creative project, could be a construction project, a minority-owned firm is given an opportunity to bid on that particular project.

Q. Magic, I know you've talked before with your restaurants and movie theaters how you would serve different concessions, do different things based on different buying patterns and habits. Can you talk about how minorities might consume NASCAR, so to speak, in a different way? How do you reach out and speak to that audience that has not traditionally been targeted?

MAGIC JOHNSON: I think what we don't understand is minorities already watch NASCAR, they just don't really go to the track as much. So I don't think it's a big problem of really educating them on NASCAR. The brand, if you ask a minority about NASCAR, they know NASCAR. They just haven't been to the track. I think when I'm trying to do now is to let them know that there's some people who look like them participating in this great sport that they probably don't know about. We have to get the word out about minorities that's already in this great sport, and also about the programs that they have in place. If we knew about the programs, we would definitely embrace NASCAR and support it, so on. I don't think that the job is as hard as you think it is. It's just we've just got to take it to them in different ways. You mentioned that Michael Malden already did some at Atlanta at a Milwaukee, which went very, very well. We plan on doing similar things of that nature. I think NASCAR is ready for that. I already do this every day, so it's going to be wonderful for me to get out, whether it's on radio and TV, educate all minorities about what NASCAR is all about - not just the cars going around the track, but all the other things. I think what George just mentioned, having an opportunity to be one of the suppliers, that's a wonderful thing. That's putting money into minorities' pockets. I think they would really embrace that, as well.

Q. George, Magic, obviously in different types of programs like this, people want to quantify things. How do you determine if the programs you're working on are actually working or you need to go in some different directions? What things are going to tell you you're going in the right direction?

MAGIC JOHNSON: I think the more minorities that the program touch, that's when you know it's working. This is so funny because I've done this so many times. You know how many retailers I had to educate about minorities or vice versa? I had to educate Starbucks on minorities, their trends, how we are, so on. We don't eat scones, you know. We have to have sweet potato pie, peach cobbler in my Starbucks (laughter). Those are some of the things I had to teach Starbucks, so on. Same thing with the movie theaters. We don't want the regular hot dog. We want spicier sausage, we got to have hot sauce on the table, we want some fried chicken, things of that nature. So what I'm saying to you is this: I understand that, I know what we want, I know what we want. With that being said, as long as we're touching minorities in different ways, whether it's the scholarship program, the internship program, the drivers, the crews, on and on and on, to me that means we're successful. Hopefully one of those drivers or two or whatever will have a chance and an opportunity one day to go up against Jeff Gordon on the big-boy circuit. If that happens, that would be a blessing for everybody. But if it doesn't happen, I want you to know that's not going to be saying that we're not successful because if we send a lot of minorities to college, if we get more and more minorities to come out to the track, it's going to be different ways where we measure success. I don't want you to think I'm sitting here saying a driver has to be there, a driver has to win it all, the point system. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying there will be different ways in which we measure success. Already it's a success today because of the programs they have already. These great people sitting here, we're going to take it another step further than that.

GEORGE PYNE: I think, too, some things are tangible, some will be intangible. I think what you want to come away with today is that NASCAR and Magic Johnson are committed. When you look at the young men and women that are here that have an opportunity today that didn't exist a year ago, when you look at 33 people that are going to be part of an intern program that didn't have an opportunity before, when you look at the Urban Youth Racing School, what they're accomplishing, when you look at what we're doing with the historically black colleges, when you look at Reggie White's program, Bill's, we're making real strides, and we're going to get better at it next year, and we're going to be better the year after that. We're in it for the long haul. It's the right thing to do. Everybody in the sport will be better for it. We do it in a way that's respectful and appreciative of what everybody brings to the table.

Q. As we have watched you over the years, have you taken a gander at NASCAR on TV? What are your reflections of the sport? Have you watched it, checked it out?

MAGIC JOHNSON: Oh, without a doubt. Also, too, my dad is from Mississippi. He actually took me to the track. So I've watched the sport with him. I have admired the sport. One thing that I really like is that you don't have just a few superstars. Every driver is a superstar. I like that. Where the NBA is only a few get to be on that level. But here, I mean, every weekend somebody else can win. I think that's exciting. The points right now, you have everybody right there, when you talk about the points system. You got about five or six people bunched up together to see who is going to win this whole points system. So I keep up with it. I also watch the stories. I was just telling both Tish and George, I watched a story on Casey on ESPN, young 19-year-old. I just watched that story a couple days ago. I was excited to see how this young man has begun to come up in the sport. Also following Bill, he's the one minority that we know that has really done a lot of great things. I'm a guy who I can't drive fast, so I got to watch everybody else drive fast around the track. But I'm excited. This is fun for me. I'm a car person. I love the sport. I love the brand. I love what the brand stands for. I just hope that I'll be sitting here for a long, long time, and there will be a lot of other people who look like me at the track hollering and screaming and maybe be one of the vendors selling whatever. It's going to be great for me.

Q. Is there any timetable that you might try to set in terms of having an African American or Hispanic go to the NEXTEL Cup circuit?

MAGIC JOHNSON: I'm not going to speak for him, but I think that's unfair, I really do. First of all, as you know, I know, there's a lot that goes into that, the sponsorships and so on. I think that goal will be achieved one day, but I think that's putting them in a position, if he says five years, doesn't meet five years, you're going to come and attack him (laughter). What I'm saying to you is whenever that day comes, it will be a great day. I'm going to work hard with the drivers to make sure that I can assist in whatever they need me to do to help them. That's what I'm here to do. But we're going to go for it. I mean, whenever that day comes, we're going to all hoot and holler, but not holler for one, we want two or three. But we don't know what's going to happen. If that doesn't happen, will this be a bad day, with all the diversity? No. We're hoping that it does happen.

GEORGE PYNE: Not that I can answer that better, but I would say that the key thing is to have programs that try and achieve goals, and to make a good faith effort to do that. I think you see that with what Reggie White is doing, Roush Racing. You're going to see that with the Drive for Diversity. We can't control who goes up. What we want to do is, A, don't prevent. All we're doing is giving people an opportunity, minorities and women, to compete on a level playing field. I have all the confidence in the world when people are give given the opportunity to compete, the cream will rise to the top, and eventually we'll get to that place. When that is, I don't think we'll ever know.

MAGIC JOHNSON: I want to expand on that just a little bit. Nobody ever thought, "Here comes a Tiger Woods in golf." Nobody ever thought that hockey would ever have a minority. Now they have several minorities. That just enhances the sport. I think one day it will happen, but you just got to let that happen.

JIM HUNTER: I just learned something. Anytime the media ask me a tough question from now on, I'm going to keep what I call the Magic Johnson list. "Let me see if I can chase Magic Johnson down and get back to you (laughter)."

Q. Magic, you said that minorities are watching NASCAR, but they aren't going to the tracks quite as much. What are some of the reasons that you believe are keeping minorities away from the track?

MAGIC JOHNSON: I don't think they really understand how great of a sport it is. I don't think we also understood it wasn't a lot of minorities participating in the sport. But now if you look here, you see that the sport is being represented by minorities. I mean, not only Bill and the other drivers, the crew members, Reggie, so somebody they know now has stepped up and he's in the sport. I think now that they see Magic Johnson want to be a part of the sport. Okay, here comes some stories that minorities are part of this great sport, and you will see other ones, "Let me check it out, let me see what it's about." Once you get to the track, man... What I love about the sport, even besides the racing, is just all the fanfare before the race even starts. So when they see they can have that much fun before the race even starts just walking around, seeing tailgating, seeing the drivers come out, they going to have a good time. I think once minorities get a real taste of NASCAR, they'll be coming up and supporting it.

Q. When minorities visit your Starbucks store, are they going to see NASCAR signs? Are you going to align your name with NASCAR? Is this the beginning in that maybe someday you'll be a car owner in NASCAR?

MAGIC JOHNSON: I think if any opportunity exists later on, we'll take a look at that. Am I going in with that mindset? Yes and no. I'm here to make sure that these programs have minorities in it, these programs really reach out to the minority community like they're supposed to, and I'm here to manage these great programs. Now, will NASCAR be in Starbucks? I can't make that decision right now today. You know it's going to cost NASCAR some money to be in Starbucks (laughter). I don't mind not taking a salary and that whole thing, but if you coming up in my Starbucks, you and I are going to have to have a different type of conversation (laughter). We'll just have to talk to Mr. France, make that happen. But I think we will look at that. We have great monitors in our theaters. There's a lot of time where we can really do some wonderful things and features. I think how you going to get more and more minorities, we got to feature the minorities in my theater, so they can get to know who is involved in the sport because they don't know everybody right now. That will be one great idea to do that. Yes, I have venues that we can definitely use, but we haven't gotten to that point yet. That's maybe further down the line.

Q. As NASCAR is diversifying the teams, the drivers, what are your views on opening up what I call a key area, merchandising and marketing to minorities? In the past, that's been pretty close-knit in terms of NASCAR.

MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, I think George had touched upon that, the fact that they will look at suppliers and vendors. NASCAR, as I've learned, don't really control the tracks. I think that's going to be a conversation we would have to have with the track owners. Am I right by saying that?

GEORGE PYNE: That's right.

MAGIC JOHNSON: Okay, cool. I will definitely have that conversation with the track owners. I want people to understand something here. Whoever the track owners already had in place, I don't want them to kick one out for a minority. I just want them to add one, add a minority to what you already have going on. This is not a situation where we want them to get rid of anybody just because a minority. I want that minority also to be qualified to do his or her job. That's what I'll be looking at, as well. If they're supposed to be there supplying great shirts, they better have some great shirts. I'm not going to be just handing out some stuff just to be handing it out. I don't work like that. I don't do business like that. I want you to know that, too. Anybody that approach me better be qualified.

JIM HUNTER: We'll take some questions from the phones.

Q. You said earlier that African Americans or minorities watch NASCAR, they just don't go to the track. Do you think by watching it, one other step that could be taken is bringing more minorities into the broadcast media end?

MAGIC JOHNSON: Not necessarily. You don't have to do that. I don't see that. As we have known in sports for many years, minorities really just recently got into the broadcasting. You see them more lately here being a part of the broadcasting teams, when you look at any sport. I don't think that's the real key. I think the real key still is to, first of all, educate them about the sport. How you do that is you got to get out into the community. I'm already there. Also I got to take some of these wonderful people who are already a part of it, the drivers, the crews, Reggie, we got to get out and talk to them about it, go to the schools, go to the churches, on and on, to talk about it. That way, now they can say, "I didn't know there was already 20 people involved that were minorities." I think that's the key there.

Q. I am originally from Los Angeles, California. I moved to the Greensboro area my junior year in high school. I'm an industrial engineering major. I didn't know anything about NASCAR whatsoever when I came to the Greensboro area. As you know in Greensboro, it's a lot of NASCAR. It learned a lot about it. I had grown up drag racing and low-riding because I'm from LA. I didn't know anything more than that. I was wondering, what do you think about kids growing up, what can we do more for inner city youth growing up? When we're little, we play basketball, baseball, football, but we don't have a lot of big media, no stars, nothing to say anything about NASCAR coming up. I think that's where it really starts, with the kids, that's where you gain your love for sports, anything you're going to do throughout your life, your childhood.

MAGIC JOHNSON: I think what has to happen is we got to get the crews and the drivers that we already have that are minorities to go out to the schools, go out to the cities, put on exhibitions, to let them know that somebody that looks like them is involved in NASCAR, which they probably don't know, just like you didn't know. So that's what we have to do. Once you're able to get out and do that, they'll say, "Okay, wow." I see this just like what Tiger did for golf. Tiger brought in a whole new audience that golf never had. But they seen Tiger participate. We need now to get the men and women of color out into the community so that they can say, "You know what, I'm a driver, I do this every day, this is what I do, this is how I do it. " Take the car, let them see it. "Wow, okay." The driver can explain what the car is all about. Those are the type of things that I want to see happen. If we can do that, now they say, "Okay, I'm going to be watching more. I want to come and see it." Maybe I can bring a group of minorities to the track. Those are the things I'm talking about. I think visibility is what I'm saying at the end of the day.

JIM HUNTER: I want to thank everyone for coming.



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