Melissa Harville-Lebron Talks Challenges Of Making It In NASCAR
Melissa Harville Lebron is trying to make it in NASCAR as a team owner. She stands in out in one significant way: She’s an African-American woman in a sport dominated by white men.
It’s been a tough road. Her E2 Northeast Motorsports team has yet to qualify for a NASCAR Truck Series race since she received a NASCAR license more than a year ago. But Harville-LeBron will be recognized Friday evening for trying. She’ll be among women honored at the nationally syndicated radio program Café Mocha’s Salute Her award is at the Mint Museum.
Gwendolyn Glenn talked to her about the challenges she faces in NASCAR and how she got interested in the sport when she had another career.
Melissa Harville - Lebron: It initially started with me working on an artist development deal for an aspiring driver. I did not know that they had aspirations for NASCAR. And they brought me in to do an artist development deal for this particular driver. While I was working on this project my two sons were in the background consuming everything about NASCAR that they could get their hands on. So every day I would come home from my office they had something new and exciting to tell me, both of them about NASCAR.
Gwendolyn Glenn: So where did you go from there? Did you say, "OK, let's try this?" Or what happened?
Harville - Lebron: I took an executive meeting down in Daytona and they loved the marketing plan. And subsequently, I would say about 2-3 months later, I got an invitation to attend a NASCAR experience there in Charlotte. So I thought it was a great way for me to show, you know, my two sons that there was more to the sport than them playing it, you know, in the comfort of their home and in the living room on a video game --that it was actually a dangerous sport.
I started doing a lot of research because there was nobody for me the contact to get information. And that was one thing that was really discouraging about getting into the sport, is that I had to basically get out there and meet people on my own. There were no resources, information. I had to do all the research myself.
Glenn: Do you have major sponsorship and is that an issue for you with your vehicles?
Harville - Lebron: We don't have major sponsorship. I'm still a self-financed team. Sponsorship is difficult in the industry, itself. So I don't take it personally. It's been quite a difficult year for a number of teams that have way more experience than we do.
Glenn: There have been a lot of people who are questioning whether you are a bonafide team and whether or not you will be able to make this work to have actual trucks out there racing in NASCAR. How do you respond to those?
Harville - Lebron: There's a lot of naysayers and everything any time anyone goes against the norm. Of course, there's negativity. And I mean, I am an African-American woman going into a Southern male sport. So I don't expect to be embraced. I expect to earn, you know, the respect, the same way everyone else earns respect. And that comes with being competitive. And the only way to be competitive in this industry is to have the financial backing, to be able to produce, you know, excellent races.
So when you are, one, not a native because NASCAR is a generational sport, mostly. I'm coming out of New York and I am a woman, which is again, almost unheard of. And I'm an African-American woman, which is again, almost unheard of in the sport. So I have a lot of things up against me that makes it even more difficult and challenging for us to be as successful as anybody else.
Glenn: And are you optimistic?
Harville - Lebron: Oh, absolutely I am. When people told me I was crazy for even wanting to get into the sport, I would have never went for it. And I'm in it for the long haul.