It’s still Black History Month, and NASCAR is making a splash of it’s own.
For one moment, abandon all your preconceived notions about the sport.
Whether you grew up with boiling passion for racing or never found an interest, the auto-racing sports giant is changing the game. NASCAR, known mostly for it’s predominant southern white male fan base, now includes a bounty of new faces, thanks to their Drive for Diversity program; a hands-on developmental initiative merging varying young talent ready to make their mark and reach the highest levels of NASCAR.
Meet Richie Williams, former Appalachian State record breaking quarterback, who grew up an avid NASCAR fan in South Carolina, traded in the pigskin for the pit crew and a successful career in NASCAR, after being catapulted into the fast-paced intensity of Pit Road after completing the D4D program.
The Crew Member Development division, headed by Phil Horton, taught Williams and others fitness and agility with pit crew drills and full-time strength and conditioning practices.
“How fast they pick up handling the tools, handling the tires, the gas can,” Horton said. “Once you learn the basic eight fundamentals of how to do a pit stop, it’s a mental thing. It’s how you are able to do that under pressure; that’s the most important thing. They’re going to be fast, but we’re going to do have to slow them down, we’re going to have to get them under control. They’re going to have to learn those fundamentals to see if they can do that when it counts the most.”
During an interview before the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 18, Williams explains the challenges of being a minority on Pit Road:
“[Challenges include] mixing cultures. A lot of the times the cultures don’t know about the other so they can be reluctant to get to know. I was the only minority in my first shop, and it was a lot of awkward conversations but they needed to be had so we can move forward but now, all those guys are like family to me.”
It’s no longer game day, but race day to these former Appalachian State Hall of Famers. Similar to Williams, Kevin Richardson, the former running back who was awarded the Diverse Crew Member Award for inspiring awareness of NASCAR through competitive performance and outreach activities, tackled the tracks and tires after a football injury prematurely benched his football aspirations as a front tire carrier:
“I never had a clue I’d be doing this. I never really watched NASCAR racing. I would see it if it was on TV. But it wasn’t like a big passion to watch, but now, I love it.”
During an interview on Sunday, the Elizabethtown, North Carolina native was asked about any preconceived notions about the sport:
“The way I look at it is it’s a job. Just go and do your job and as long as you do that, it’ll be alright. I’m not here to make friends; if I run into a few people and shake hands and exchange numbers, that’s cool. But I’m here to do a job and that’s my main focus every time I show up.”
When the former teammates isn’t on Pit Road, the pair spends their time as football coaches.