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One Way NASCAR Is Increasing Diversity: Pit Crew Recruits

Nick de la Canal
Robin Loza

NASCAR is trying to appeal to a broader audience beyond its traditional base, mostly made up of older, white southerners. One way the organization is trying to diversify its appeal is by recruiting young, diverse pit crew members.

On Friday, NASCAR held a Diversity Pit Crew Combine in Concord, where 12 college athletes with diverse backgrounds competed for a chance to train as a NASCAR pit crew member. While most of the athletes were recruited from colleges around the U.S., one named Robin Loza of CPCC signed himself up.

Loza, who's of Nicaraguan descent, joined WFAE's Nick de la Canal to talk about what attracted him to the pit crew, and he's hoping to get out of the day's combine.

Nick de la Canal: So most of the college athletes here today were recruited by NASCAR scouts who visited their schools and found them. But you actually came as a walk on by your own volition, right? How come?

Loza said a friend who works on a pit crew encouraged him to look into doing it himself. Loza’s friend told him his experience playing sports and his natural athleticism would lend well to the job.

But, Loza said, he was hesitant.

Loza: I never grew up watching NASCAR. I know nothing about NASCAR. I can only tell you about Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt. That's it. I can't tell you anything else besides that.

And [his friend to him], “You don't gotta know about it. You could just do it to enjoy it. So you just do it for the fun of it, like I do.”

So he invited me to one of his practices and he introduced me to the coach — Coach Phil Horton.

And I sat back, I saw how they practice. I saw their movements — the speed at which they work at, which is pretty awesome. It caught my interest.

After witnessing a practice, Loza said he told the coach he wanted to learn more.

Loza: I wasn't too sure at first if I was going to like it. You know, I've never been to NASCAR and didn't grow up watching NASCAR. But after watching them practice, I was like — you know what? I may give this a shot. I might like this a little bit.

De la Canal: You said that you didn't have NASCAR growing up, like doing it in your family, or you didn't have friends who are racing fans.

Loza: I have friends who are racing fans. I’ve always had friends who were racing fans. But my main sports were football, basketball, boxing — you know those were the three main sports I watched.

Now, the [racing] video games I played — the video games are fun. Yes, the video games I liked playing.

De la Canal: Have you had much experience changing tires before?

Loza: Never never never. I've never changed tires, or got involved in the mechanic business, or anything like that. To be honest, I don't know much about cars.

But I like it so far. I think it's going good for me. I'm not great — I'm not good, yet. I've only had three months of experience, but I plan on getting up there soon.

De la Canal: So there are 12 college athletes here today from colleges around the U.S. You're representing Charlotte as a former wide receiver for CPCC —

Loza: Rocky River High School.

De la Canal: Rocky River, I'm sorry. So you guys are going to be doing a number of exercises and drills throughout the day and then at the end of this, they're going to pick the top six athletes to go on to a training program for the pit crew, right?

So I'm not trying put on the pressure or anything here, but depending on how you perform today could depend whether this new avenue opens up in your life, right?

Loza: Right right right.

De la Canal: So are you at all nervous? Do you have any techniques for dealing with that?

Loza: Only thing I can do is just do what I've been doing for the past three months. You know, just do what I've been training [for].

However, today I'm a little nervous because I have blisters on my hands, so it's kind of holding me back from going the velocity I want to go. But no excuses. You know, whatever happens, happens. It's not the end of the world for me.

De la Canal: How did you get blisters on your hand?

Loza: It happens. That air gun. You know, if you pop that lug nut really hard, that causes blisters on your hands.

De la Canal: I wouldn't have thought of that. It's an occupational hazard, right?

Loza: Yeah yeah yeah. But I mean, all that you can do is suck it up and just move along.

De la Canal: So all of today's participants, including yourself, are part of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. That's because NASCAR is trying to make itself a more diverse sport and shed the perception that it's mostly for southern and mostly white men.

Do you think that the sport's moving in a good direction and what would your message be for future minorities who might want to get involved?

Loza: I'm a Hispanic American of Nicaraguan descent. My plan is to — if I do get good, which I hope to — represent the Latinos and the NASCAR pit crew team. And I think we're moving along pretty good, as far as diversity.

I think Coach Phil Horton has a good team going on his hands. He recruits people from all kinds of races and cultures and things of that nature. So, I think it's moving along pretty good.

We're seeing more different cultures. Like you said, it’s not just, you know, the white man but everybody from all around the world, which is a beautiful thing to see.

It makes your country proud, you know, to see somebody make it on top and represent your country — so that's always good to see.

De la Canal: So what's your hope for today?

Loza: My hope is — I'm hoping the best for everybody, not only for me. I wish the best for everybody. I hope everybody mcan make a good career out of this in the future, enjoy themselves and make the best out of it. All I think is, you know, do what you gotta do.

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal