Sunday, March 2, 2014

NASCAR Drive for Diversity Now and Then

By Jason D Searcy

It was recently announced that Paige Decker from Eagle River (WI) was chosen for a ride in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program for 2014. 

She will get the opportunity to race in top quality equipment in the NASCAR Whelen All American series Late Model division down South this summer against some real tough competition.  She will race a total of 15 nights for REV Racing at three different tracks: Langley, Hickory and the Motor Mile.

At just 20 years old Paige caught the eye of the right people last year by winning a 60 lap TUNDRA series Super Late Model race at Golden Sands Speedway.  "I am sure being the first female and first rookie to win a Tundra Super Late Model feature helped me" said Decker.

She said the application process was very easy, she put together race highlight from 2013 and filled out the paperwork online.  When it came time for the on-track audition at Langley Speedway in October, she did well.  "I think the way I jumped into the car and gave it all I got was a big selling point," said Decker.  "I went out on cold tires and got the car up to speed right away, no one else did that."
Paige is the only female driver to make the cut this year, she will join 5 guys in the program with four of them racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series including Daytona Battle at the Beach winner Daniel Suarez. Decker hopes to drive some Super Late Model races in the Midwest for her family team this summer, but it depends on funding. 

Paige has a lot of respect for the drivers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, when she talks about role models in her career she stays local.  "I definitely look up to the Sauters and Danny Fredrickson" said Decker.  "They run the Midwest up here and when those Southern boys come up, and even the NASCAR guys at the Milwaukee mile. They show them who's boss."

The NASCAR "Drive for Diversity" has helped showcase some talented drivers since its inception in 2004.  Some notable alumni have risen to the top of our sport, including Chip Ganassi Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson and KB Motorsports Truck series driver Bubba Wallace.

One other local racer has spent her time in the program as well, Molly Rhoads from Hastings (MN).  She was part of the program in both 2006 and 2007, she was chosen from over 300 applicants to be one of 19 drivers to audition at South Boston Speedway driving K&N series cars.

Even though Molly was never offered a racing contract it was a unique experience, she was even interviewed on ESPN.  "The media portion included some training and being interviewed by some of the big TV networks," said Rhoads.  "We didn't know the interviews were going anywhere but to the teams until that night when we were all out for dinner and there I was on ESPN!  That was incredibly cool!"

"I wish I was younger and could have the chance to participate in the program now" said Rhoads.  "The program now seems to be more about promoting the drivers and less about NASCAR being diversified and just a marketing program.  They have come a long way over the years and are offering an awesome program for the lucky few who get to be a part of REV Racing."

Molly is a car owner and has continued her racing career here in Minnesota with the exception of 2013 when some health problems kept her off the track.  She expects to resume racing a Super Late Model at Elko Speedway and the TUNDRA series this summer upon approval from her doctors.

Both these ladies are thankful for their opportunities and have represented racing in the Midwest with class.
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*Top photo courtesy of Dean Reller