Thirteen anxious teenagers from seven different states and Mexico arrived at South Boston Speedway early Wednesday morning looking to land what they hope will be a life-altering opportunity to pursue a career in racing.
The group of young racers ranging in age from 13 to 19 were participants in the final day of the three-day 2022 Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine, all seeking selection for the 2023 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development program.
Nineteen-year-old Lavar Scott, one this year’s participants in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development program, said the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine presents an opportunity that could change the course of his life.
“That’s what’s been on my mind all day,” Scott said prior to the start of Wednesday’s on-track activities at South Boston Speedway. “This is it. I’ve got to shine. This is big for my racing journey.”
Scott said he could feel the pressure.
“Everybody is very nice about it, and everybody is supportive, but you always know this is a combine, it’s competition. Pressure naturally comes with that.”
“I want to go Late Model and ARCA racing again next year,” he added. “This program with Rev Racing gives you an opportunity to do great things.”
Katie Hettinger agreed.
“The Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine is a big deal,” remarked the 15-year-old, who this season became the winningest female competitor in the history of Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway. “I really want to race in the ARCA Series next year. Rev Racing has great equipment, and I think this is where I need to be to be competitive next year. So, there is a lot of pressure on this combine, but I’m having a lot of fun giving it all I’ve got.”
Hettinger raced at South Boston Speedway once earlier this season. Prior to the start of the day’s activities, she noted the experience would be helpful.
“I know this track,” Hettinger pointed out. I know the line I need to drive. I’ve got to get used to the Goodyear tires, but I think we’ll be pretty solid.”
Sixteen-year-old Jaiden Reyna, one of the young drivers selected to participate in the 2022 Drive for Diversity Driver Development program, says there is a certain degree of pressure involved in participating in the combine.
“It’s less pressure from them (Rev Racing) and more pressure on yourself because you are competing against your other teammates,” Reyna explained. “If you stay calm and focus on yourself, you will be fine. I feel pressure only comes when you’re trying to compare yourself to others, so just do your best.”
Reyna competed in two NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model Stock Car Division events at South Boston Speedway this season with a best finish of 11th. The experience was helpful as he looked toward Wednesday’s on-track activities.
“I feel that with my experience I have a pretty good knowledge of the track,” Reyna pointed out. “My first time here was a pretty difficult one. The next time we came I had had a race here under my belt, I refreshed, and I did better.”
Five of the 13 participants in Wednesday’s combine at South Boston Speedway are current Rev Racing drivers. That list includes Justin Campbell (age 17), Andres Perez deLara (17), Reyna, Scott, and Regina Sirvent (19).
The driver roster also included first-time combine participants Hettinger, Quinn Davis (age 13), Eloy Sebastian Lopez Falcon (17), Caleb Johnson (15), Nathan Lyons (13), Jordan Riddick (17), Paige Rogers (19) and Lucas Vera (15).
The participants took part in on-track exercises under the watchful eyes of a panel of evaluators who will select the drivers that will be part of the 2023 Drive for Diversity Driver Development program.
Rev Racing, based in Concord, North Carolina and owned by Max Siegel who serves as its CEO, is the driver development arm of the Drive for Diversity program. The goal for each of the participants in the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine is to follow the footsteps of previous Drive for Diversity Program graduates like Kyle Larson, Bubba Wallace, and Daniel Suarez, all of whom currently compete in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“The combine has been a huge success in us being able to reach a wide variety of drivers,” said Jusan Hamilton, Managing Director of Competition Operations for NASCAR. “We’re developing drivers to come through our pipeline. It’s very important for us with the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program that we not just set the example for drivers in the diverse space, but driver development in general.”
Hamilton noted that the pipeline consists of Legends Cars, Late Model Stocks, ARCA East, and then to ARCA Elite.
“The goal from there is they should be going to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series, depending on their talent level,” he pointed out.
When asked about the talent level of the participants taking part in this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine, Hamilton said the talent level ranges.
“There are some drivers that would be ready to enter and go straight to the Late Model program,” Hamilton said. “Others will be looking at the Legends Cars program. No one here that is new is going to go straight to the ARCA program. That is reserved for the elite drivers that develop within our program.”
The Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine opened on Monday (Nov. 14) in Charlotte, North Carolina with participants getting track time at the GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, North Carolina in go-karts and receiving driving instruction from Josh Wise and Scott Speed, both of whom are coaches for some of NASCAR’s top drivers. A welcome reception was held for participants at NASCAR headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina as well.
On Tuesday (Nov. 15) participants took part in media and physical activities at the GM Technical Center in Concord, North Carolina. The combine concluded Wednesday (Nov. 16) with on-track activities at South Boston Speedway.