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NASCAR Drive for Diversity program announces 2019 class

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The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program announced its 2019 class with Rev Racing Thursday.

The six-member class includes four returning members.

Gracie Trotter and Brooke Storer are the new members.

The six drivers were selected from 12 national and international drivers invited to participate in the two-day NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Combine at New Smyrna Speedway and Bethune-Cookman University in October.

The drivers will compete for Rev Racing in the K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for one full season with mentoring and equipment provided by the race team. 

Since Rev Racing began fielding cars for the Drive for Diversity program in the K&N East in 2010, it has earned 19 wins, 88 top fives and 199 top-10 finishes with drivers finishing in the top 10 in points each season.

Here’s the 2019 class.

Chase Cabre, 21, Tampa, Florida – Cabre will return to Rev Racing for his third season. In 2018, he competed in both the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where he finished seventh in the championship standings. Cabre will again compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2019.

Ernie Francis Jr., 20, Southwest Ranches, Florida – In 2014, Francis Jr. became the youngest Trans-Am champion in series history. This past season, he captured his fifth consecutive series championship title. Francis will race a Late Model for Rev Racing and run in select events in the K&N Pro Series East.

Rubén García Jr., 23, México City, México – In 2015, García Jr. became the youngest driver to win the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series Championship. He won his second championship this year in the series. García Jr. also earned his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race win at Memphis International Raceway in 2018 followed with a victory at Dover International Speedway in October. García Jr. will continue racing in the K&N Pro East Series.

Nick Sanchez, 17, Homestead, Florida – Sanchez completed his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series rookie season in 2018. He also raced in the Bojangles Summer Shootout with Rev Racing’s Legends Car program and finished sixth in championship points. Sanchez will race in a Late Model for Rev Racing.

Brooke Storer, 20, Land O’ Lakes, Florida – Storer is the 2016 Desoto Speedway Sportsman Champion. This past season, she raced in the Wheel Man Series Late Model Sportsman division capturing two 50-lap feature wins. In 2017, she placed third in points in the Wheel Man Series. Storer will race a Late Model for Rev Racing in 2019.

Gracie Trotter, 17, Denver, North Carolina – Trotter is the winner of Round 5 of the Bojangles Summer Shootout in the Semi Pro division. In 2018 she competed in the CARS Tour & PASS Series at Concord, Hickory, Caraway, Orange Country, South Boston and Carteret County. She also raced USLCI Legend cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, Anderson, Tri-County and Caraway. Trotter will race a Late Model for Rev Racing in 2019.

Ryan Vargas, who did not make the Rev Racing lineup after being with the program last year, expressed his thanks to the team and wrote that “I apologize to everyone who’s supported me. I feel as if I let you all down (by not making the team for 2019).”

NASCAR announces 12 invitees to Drive for Diversity combine

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NASCAR announced the 12 drivers invited to compete for the 2019 Drive for Diversity program on Monday. The dozen drivers have competed on three continents in a variety of racecars.

“The drivers invited to this year’s NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Combine represent a wide range of diverse backgrounds, both in terms of heritage and driving disciplines,” said Jusan Hamilton, NASCAR senior manager of racing operations and event management in a press release. “The combine has been tremendous in helping the NASCAR industry identify and develop top diverse talent and this year is no different.”

Rev Racing serves as the on-track partner for the Drive for Diversity program. Since the inception of the program, Rev Racing has earned 19 wins, 88 top fives and 186 top-10 finishes.

The combine will help set their lineup in 2019.

“As we embark upon our 11th year managing the Drive for Diversity program in partnership with NASCAR, we couldn’t be more excited about the evolution of our driver development program,” said Max Siegel, CEO of Rev Racing. “Through selection process and training program we look forward to selecting and developing some of NASCAR’s brightest stars.”

In addition to testing their skill behind the wheel of a racecar, candidates will undergo a physical fitness assessment as well as tests to determine their ability to effective communicate and market sponsors.

This year’s combine invitees include Ruben Garcia Jr. – current points leader in the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series.

Trans Am standout Ernie Francis Jr. will also compete. He has scored four wins in this series in 2018 and currently leads the series standings

Chase Cabre, Juan Manuel González, Loris Hezemans, Perry Patino, Nick Sanchez, Brooke Storer, Ryu Taggart, Gracie Trotter, Ryan Vargas and Brittney Zamora round out the list.

Zamora became the first female driver to win the Northwest Super Late Model Series Championship in 2017.

These hopefuls look to follow in the footsteps of Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace – all of whom have gone through the program.

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Ruben Garcia Jr. gets ‘stress relief’ from first K&N Pro Series East win

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With about 15 laps left in Saturday’s K&N Pro Series East race at Memphis International Raceway (airing at 6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN), Ruben Garcia Jr.‘s spotter came over his radio.

“Hey, just keep running the same speed you’re running,” Garica recalls him saying. “Second place is trying really hard to catch you and he’s not getting any closer. You’re fine.”

If Garcia, who was leading over pole-sitter Tyler Ankrum, made it to the checkered flag unscathed, it would be a huge moment for the 22-year-old driver.

It would his first win in the K&N East after three years and 34 starts of trying and he’d become the fourth Mexican-born driver to win in the series, following Daniel Suarez (2014), Rogelio Lopez (2007) and Ruben Pardo (2006). It would also be his first race win outside Mexico.

That final race stretch “felt like the longest laps of my life” Garcia told NBC Sports.

Minutes after taking the checkered flag and the win, Garcia was looking into his girlfriend Regina’s phone.

Via FaceTime, Garcia spoke with his family back in Mexico, who had followed along with the race on Twitter over dinner.

Among them was his father, who like Garcia, competed in the NASCAR Mexico Series.

Saturday’s race was the first this year he hadn’t attended.

“He was very very, excited,” Garcia said. “It has been a long time since I’ve seen him that happy.”

He’ll get to see his father for the first time this weekend after he competes in the NASCAR Mexico race in Guadalajara.

Garcia, who competes for Rev Racing, called his win in Memphis a form of “stress relief” after more than two seasons of futility.

“We were really close,” Garcia said. “I knew it was coming, but one thing or the other it didn’t happen. I tried to be as patient as I could. … It felt like it took too long. Everyone says the first win is the hardest. After that you have enough confidence to know that you can do it again.”

All three other Mexican-born drivers to win in the K&N Series are well known to Garcia and reached out to him in the days following his victory.

“I know Daniel, I’ve raced with him,” Garcia said. “I know Ruben Pardo, I’m still running against him. I know Rogelio Lopez, he’s a really, really good friend of mine and of my family. We were teammates last year. We’re very close to each other. The three of them called me just to congratulate me. It’s really cool for me because they know what it means, they know what I’m feeling right now and how it felt to take the checkered flag for the first time outside your country.”

 

Drive for Diversity program gives four-time Trans Am champ Ernie Francis Jr. a shot at NASCAR

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As of two weeks ago, Ernie Francis Jr. had only driven a stock car four times.

The 19-year-old from Dania, Florida, had been behind the wheel for a test at Hickory Speedway, during the two-day tryout for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program at New Smyrna Speedway and in this year’s Xfinity Series race at Road America.

Even then, Francis still has the numbers for Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi saved in his phone.

“I’ve met personally and had meetings with and still talk on the phone with them every couple of weeks,” Franics told NBC Sports on Nov. 7 when he was announced as one of the six members of the 2018 Drive for Diversity class. “It’s been a good climate for me in meeting these people and the more connections the better.”

What does an aspiring NASCAR driver with next to no stock car racing experience talk about with two legendary car owners?

The future. Or potential ones.

“Kind of just talking about what I’m doing with my career and where I’m trying to go and what’s it going to take for me to get behind the wheel of their race cars,” Francis said. “I’ve had a lot of talks with Chip Ganassi about that and hoping every step that I take out here will get me closer to getting behind the wheel of one of those cars.”

Why would Penske and Ganassi have interest in the 19-year-old driver?

Ernie Francis Jr. waits in his car at New Smyrna Speedway on Oct. 17 in New Smyrna, Florida. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

CHANGING LANES

Francis stands in the Rev Racing shop, located less than a mile from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Overlooked by banners with the faces and accomplishments of Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr., graduates of the Drive for Diversity program, Francis isn’t intimidated.

Not by the precedence or by the boxy stock cars he’ll drive in the K&N Pro Series East’s road course races in 2018.

He’s been in much faster cars and won. A lot.

“When I hop behind the wheel of a K&N car or a Xfinity car I already know how to deal with that power and how to deal with that speed,” Francis said.

While new to NASCAR, Francis has spent the last four years breaking records in sports car racing in the Trans Am Series.

Since he was 16, Francis has won four championships with the team owned by Ernie Francis Sr., Breathless Performance Racing Team. He’s the youngest driver to reach that mark. The first three titles came in the TA4 Class and his 2017 title came in T4, driving a Ford Mustang.

He’s also won 33 races, the last coming in the season finale at Daytona three days after his introduction as part of the Drive for Diversity program.

So why make the jump to a different racing ladder?

Francis Jr., who grew up a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, sees NASCAR’s path to its top level as more likely to payoff in the long run.

“I’d say it’s about the same if not easier in stock car racing,” Francis said. “Road course racing is a very steep ladder and that’s the problem with stock car racing. The thing with stock car racing in general also is it all costs money to get to the top. Either it costs money or you’ve got to get recognized by a team. I think it’s easier to get recognized in the stock car racing world than it is in road course racing. Being that there’s so many road course racers, whether it’s in endurance racing where there’s four drivers in a car, there’s so many drivers you’re competing against compared to NASCAR when you’re out there.

“It’s smaller fields with one driver per car and it’s kind of easier to be recognized if you’re a good driver standing out in a field.”

With three test sessions and 16 Xfinity laps under his belt at Road America before an engine problem, NASCAR has turned out to be more than he expected.

“After getting out there on track I realized there’s a lot more to it,” Francis said. “It’s a lot more technical than people think. People think that it’s just going out there just running a car in a circle. There’s a whole different side to it. These cars are so intricate on the way the suspension set up is and how they need it to be to go around the track properly that I’ve had to learn in the couple of tests I’ve done. I’ve really come to appreciate that.”

In addition to his K&N road course races for Rev Racing, Francis will also compete for the program’s late model team. But there’s also the possibility of Francis driving in his first K&N oval race toward the end of the year.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be yet,” Francis said. “I need some more seat time before I get out there and just practice on one. The first goal is just going to be finishing the race and then the next one will be focusing on where we finish.”

When he does get time on an oval again, he’ll have the voice of his spotter from his first Hickory test, Lee Faulk of Lee Faulk Racing and Development, still ringing in his ears.

“He was the one yelling at me, yelling all kinds of things about how I was going too slow and pressing the brakes too much and all kinds off stuff,” Francis said. “His voice is still in my head whenever I go out there and run on the oval tracks, kind of helps me out.”

Father-Son Team

The speed and the adrenaline.

That’s why Ernie Francis Jr. chose racing over other sports while growing up in Florida

“There’s no sport where you get going 150, 200 mph on a race car flying around heading toward a wall and basically cheating death every lap you go around,” Francis said. “It’s pretty exciting.

“There’s no rush like driving a race car.”

Francis was exposed to that rush at the age of 4 by Ernie Francis Sr., when he started competing in go-karts on the regional circuit.

Francis Sr. raced in sports cars and his son helped however he could.

“My dad would take me to the track and I just wanted to watch the cars,” Francis Jr. says. “I would clean the cars. I would help strap him in as much as I could and I just loved it from the beginning.”

The relationship swapped roles once Francis Jr. got into go-kart racing, which he competed in until he was 12.

“It was just me and my dad, he was the one working on my go-kart and I was the one driving it,” Francis Jr. said.

In 2013, the year before Francis Jr. began his historic tenure in the Trans Am Series, the two raced each other for one season in the Pirelli World Challenge’s TCB Class. At 15, Francis was the youngest driver competing in the Pirelli.

Francis Jr. won seven races and finished third in the standings, also earning Rookie of the Year honors while his dad placed fifth.

 

With three Trans Am titles under his belt, the duo first visited North Carolina last year to get a tour of the Rev Racing shop Francis Jr.’s cars will be built out of and where a future that could involve the names Penske and Ganassi will begin.

The younger Francis says his father has “never really been” into NASCAR, but says “he likes” what his son is getting into.

Though Francis Sr. does have one demand.

“His main thing that he says is, if I start doing NASCAR racing he wants tickets for every race,” Francis Jr. said.

13th Drive For Diversity Combine set for Oct. 10-12 in Florida

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NASCAR and Rev Racing on Thursday announced the contestants who will take part in the 13th Drive For Diversity Combine.

The national tryout event will take place on Oct. 10-12 at New Smyrna Speedway near Daytona Beach, Florida.

This year’s field of 17 contestants will include 13 females and several multicultural drivers from across the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Drivers will be competing for spots with Rev Racing teams in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for one full season. Those selected will be assigned teams and provided with equipment, mentoring and competition experience.

“This year’s NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine will feature some incredible talent and we’re excited to watch these young drivers compete,” Dawn Harris, NASCAR director, multicultural development, said in a media release. “NASCAR’s first-class development program has produced the likes of Kyle Larson, Daniel Suárez and Darrell Wallace Jr., so it will be fun to see who rises to the top at New Smyrna.”

Combine officials are also looking forward to the annual event.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for these up-and-coming drivers; something I am very proud to be a part of for the sixth consecutive year,” Rev Racing director of competition Jefferson Hodges said. “To see past Drive for Diversity participants compete across all three NASCAR national series speaks volumes for the solid foundation Rev Racing provides these drivers in their budding careers.”

In addition to the newcomers that will make up much of the 2017 D4D class are several members from the 2016 class that will be eligible to return for next season, as well.

Those include Macy Causey, who at 14 years old was the youngest combine participant in NASCAR Drive for Diversity history in 2015.

Also participating are Hailie Deegan, daughter of Brian Deegan, the most decorated athlete in freestyle motocross history, and Hope Hornish, the niece of 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and current NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Sam Hornish Jr.

Others include current NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series drivers: Jairo Avila, Enrique Baca, Collin Cabre, Madeline Crane, Ruben Garcia Jr, and Ali Kern.

Combine participants will be evaluated on driving skills, a physical fitness assessment and receive additional training at nearby Bethune-Cookman University.

Fans can follow the Combine live on Twitter at @NASCARDiversity and @RevRacing.

Below are the invitees to the 2016 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine:

First Last Age City State/Country
Ali Kern* 23 Fremont Ohio
Amber Balcaen 24 Winnipeg Canada
Ariel Biggs 22 Castaic California
Armani Williams 16 Grosse Point Michigan
Chase Cabre 19 Tampa Florida
Collin Cabre* 23 Tampa Florida
Enrique Baca* 25 Monterrey Mexico
Hailie Deegan 15 Temecula California
Hannah Newhouse 19 Twin Falls Idaho
Hope Hornish 19 Defiance Ohio
Jairo Avila* 21 Alhambra California
Jay Beasley 24 Las Vegas Nevada
Kayli Barker 19 Las Vegas Nevada
Luis Rodriguez 22 Miami Florida
Macy Causey 15 Yorktown Virginia
Madeline Crane* 18 Meansville Georgia
McKenna Haase 19 Carlisle Iowa
Nicole Behar 18 Otis Orchards Washington
Reegan May 22 De Pere Wisconsin
Ruben Garcia Jr.17 20 Mexico City Mexico
Santiago Tovar 23 Mexico City Mexico
Taylor Jorgensen 20 Stockbridge Georgia
Walter Thomas III 18 Indianapolis Indiana

* Current NASCAR Drive for Diversity drivers eligible for 2017 program; will attend but not compete in combine