Joe Henderson III, 18, of Franklin, Tenn., is the first of five minority drivers named to the 2004 Drive For Diversity initiative, started by Access Marketing & Communications of Charlotte, with support and encouragement from NASCAR.
Access also has recruited six minority youths to place as crewmen in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Henderson, who is black, now will be a regular at Music City Motorplex, Nashville, where Rockford native Jack Deery is the general manager, driving a late-model Dodge for Bobby Hamilton Racing with sponsorship from Kodak.
All of the drivers selected for the Drive for Diversity program this year will be placed on teams in NASCARs Weekly Racing Series. Rockford Speedway is part of that series.
Separate diversity programs also have been started by Joe Gibbs Racing in partnership with former NFL star Reggie White, and by Roush Racing, which recently hired former Nextel Cup team owner Sam Belnavis to set up a group.
A diversity program was started by Dodge in 2001 when it returned to NASCAR after a long absence. It ended during the 2003 season with only one black driver, Bill Lester, racing in NASCARs top three professional series. Lester still drives for Bill Davis Racing in the truck series.
Only one black driver, Willy T. Ribbs, has competed in NASCARs top series (Nextel Cup) in the sports modern era. Wendell Scott is the only black driver to win in what today is Nextel Cup. He was the first black stock car driver, and he won that race at Jacksonvlle, Fla., on Dec. 1, 1963. He made 500 starts in his career.
Henderson and the four other drivers were selected from an original field of more than 100 participants from around the country. That field was narrowed to 12, then down to the final five who will receive financial sponsorships.
Henderson graduates from high school next month and plans to enroll in Nashvilles Auto Diesel College in the fall of 2005.