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Most high schoolers play sports or join clubs as an extracurricular activity. This high school senior does something a little different.
In his free time, Rajah Caruth, a senior at School Without Walls, is a professional racecar driver. He was accepted into a NASCAR-sponsored program called Drive for Diversity. If successful, he can be one of very few black drivers in the history of NASCAR.
RevRacing, the agency sponsoring the diversity program, was started by Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel, a black woman who had a passion for auto racing. Now she and her husband work to get minority and women drivers into NASCAR.
We hear about Rajah’s cruise to professional auto racing and the program providing support and opportunities for minority and women drivers.
Produced by Richard Cunningham
- Rajah Caruth Senior at School Without Walls, member of NASCAR and RevRacing's Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program, @rajahcaruth
- Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel Co-owner of RevRacing, co-manager of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program
- Max Siegel Co-owner of RevRacing, co-manager of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program
KOJO NNAMDIOut of all of the major sporting leagues, NASCAR is the least diverse, by far. 2013 demo profile shows that 94 percent of NASCAR's viewing demographic identify as white. But NASCAR is taking steps to change that. They've tasked RevRacing with creating the Drive for Diversity. The program trains minority and women drivers in every aspect of NASCAR racing, from media relations to training schedules.
KOJO NNAMDILocal high school student Rajah Caruth is an up-and-coming NASCAR driver who is participating in this diversity development partnership between NASCAR and RevRacing. He joins us in studio. Rajah, thank you for joining us. Good to see you.
RAJAH CARUTHThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone is Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel, the owner of RevRacing. That's the competition arm of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. Jennifer, thank you for joining us.
JENNIFER SATTERFIELD-SIEGELThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone is Max Siegel, the CEO of RevRacing, exclusive manager of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. Max Siegel, thank you for joining us.
MAX SIEGELSo glad to be here.
NNAMDII notice that you and Jennifer share the same last name. Is this a husband-and-wife partnership, here?
SIEGEL(laugh) Yeah, and I think you characterized it right, as she owns, and I work for her. (laugh)
NNAMDIOkay. Rajah, how did you get into racing?
CARUTHI've been in racing, or had a passion for racing since I was a little kid and watching, like, Lightning McQueen and, you know, having little die-cast cars. And I've loved it for so long it's kind of a part of me.
NNAMDIIt's one thing to be interested in something, it's another thing to start. When did you start racing?
CARUTHSummer of 2017, I started indoor go-carting.
NNAMDIDo you remember your first NASCAR race?
NNAMDIWhat was it like?
CARUTHIt was amazing. It was the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond Raceway in 2014. And I was kind of surprised by my parents to, you know, go to that race, just because we had tried for a couple of years before to try to get to one. And my whole family went, my dad's sister, mom and grandfather. And it was really cool just, you know, seeing, you know, things you watch on TV for so long. And to finally, you know, see it with your own eyes and feel it and hear it and take it all in, it was amazing.
NNAMDIRajah, you've been a part of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program for the last two years. What's that experience like?
CARUTHIt's been great, you know, being with NASCAR Drive for Diversity. There's so many opportunities that have come with it. And I've learned so much from not just the driving standpoint, but how you have to carry yourself on and off the track and how to conduct yourself online and to other people. And overall, just to, you know, at the end of the day, be a better person.
NNAMDIMax and Jennifer Siegel--well, Jennifer, I'll start with you. What is RevRacing?
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELRevRacing is a racing team. And we develop and train drivers to get them to the next level.
NNAMDIAnd Max Siegel, what does RevRacing have to do with the Drive for Diversity program?
SIEGELYeah, so Jennifer and I got involved with NASCAR in 2000. The late Reggie White and his wife, Sarah, who were clients of mine, as I was his agent and lawyer, retired in Charlotte, got involved in the sport, saw tremendous opportunities for young people, people of color, and talked to Jennifer and I about being partners with them and making an entrée.
SIEGELSo, we've been passionate about creating opportunities for athletes to train, to develop young professionals to go onto careers in NASCAR. And, fortunately, I was asked to become the president of Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in late 2006. So, my family went down there. We got really immersed in the culture of the sport. And Jennifer and I saw an opportunity to start a team and build an academy and provide the resources and the platform for our athletes to train and get involved.
NNAMDIWait, you mentioned the late Reggie White. Was that Reggie White, the football player?
SIEGELAbsolutely, the minister of defense.
NNAMDIYeah, I knew he was a minister of the cloth, also, but I didn't know that he was that interested in NASCAR racing. How and when did this program get started, Max?
SIEGELSo, we've been managing the program for 12 years, and the program has been around for about 15 years. And I know that NASCAR saw the need to diversify the sport and, again, to train athletes and to promote the efforts. And Jennifer and I took over in 2009 to assess the program, and worked collaboratively with NASCAR to improve it on a yearly basis.
NNAMDIWhat kinds of programs or skills are the racers taught?
SIEGELThere are a number of components to their training. One is that they spend time on the physical development with our strength and conditioning coach. There's media training that's involved in it. They get the opportunity to be at the shop and work on the cars. They test and compete and they're taught how to communicate with their team in terms of the performance on the cars. Jennifer can talk a bit about the community outreach component that we have with RevRacing.
SIEGELBut the goal of it is to have a well-rounded race car driver or pit crew member who's also a brand ambassador and able to have a positive impact on the young people. So, Jennifer, you may want to talk about some of the stuff...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Jennifer, tell us about community outreach.
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELWell, we train our drivers and encourage our drivers to go to hospitals, Really any organization, any event that deals with children or children are involved. We encourage our drivers and get behind them to make visits to, like, children's hospitals, to schools, to the Boys and Girls Clubs. Just organizations where they can have an impact on children and encourage them to learn more about NASCAR and to just let them know that we are here and that the opportunity is available for them, too. So, just as the big-time drivers give back to the community, it's something that we stand behind and that we encourage our drivers to do, also.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel. She's the owner of RevRacing, the competition arm of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. Max Siegel is the CEO of RevRacing. He's an exclusive manager of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. And Rajah Caruth, who is a senior at the School Without Walls High School here in Washington, D.C. And he is an up-and-coming NASCAR driver. Rajah, how does it feel to be on the path to be one of a few African-American NASCAR drivers?
CARUTHIt's pretty cool, you know, to know I'm one of the first and few, you know, pursuing this field. And to be at the juncture I'm at right now, it's pretty cool just to see, I guess, all the stuff that I have to do, you know, on and off the track. And at the same time, all the help that I have, you know, in terms of on track, in terms of learning. What I have to do, you know, to improve and get better. And, off track, how to carry myself, you know, in terms of, like, what I embody and things like that. It's really cool.
NNAMDIWell, it's cool, because you have a cool and calm demeanor. I would be nervous as heck were I involved in something like this. (laugh) Jennifer, tell us about what the scene has been like in the racing world historically as far as inclusion for women and people of color.
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELWell, you know, when Max and I first got involved in NASCAR in 2007, I can remember going to the tracks. And there was, like, one pit crew member that was a woman. And I can remember thinking how strong she was. I think she was a tire changer and her arms were just, like, huge like trees. And she was just super-strong.
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELAnd she was the first woman that we saw, you know, that was a pit crew member. And I don't even remember -- maybe there was one pit crew member that was African American, but you just didn't see them. There were some officials that were African American. You just didn't see that diversity.
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELAnd now, you know, fast forward, I mean, everywhere you look, it seems like that every team, you know, has someone of color that makes up the team. We now have, like, over, like, 53 minority and female pit crew members that are working in NASCAR. So, our program has been so successful in identifying, educating, training people of color and women to have an impact on this industry.
NNAMDIWhat impact did Danica Patrick's entry into NASCAR have?
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELOh, yeah, that's right. And so, we were there before Danica got there. And then I can remember when she came on the scene, and I remember, like, kind of the chitchat in the garages of, you know, what people were thinking about having this woman, you know, on the NASCAR circuit. And, you know, it was an exciting time. And I know as far as Max and I are concerned, you know, the people that we encountered, everybody's been so nice to us and welcoming to us.
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELAnd, definitely, NASCAR has, you know, shown such an interest in increasing their fan base and expanding their fan base. And we know we can help with that. So, it has definitely come a long way. And I have to applaud NASCAR for even wanting to be a part of the development of, you know, drivers and pit crew members and wanting to continue this program. So, what we've seen is that this program has taken off. This program is successful. And this program is here to stay.
NNAMDIWhat do you do, exactly, to reach out to more women drivers and drivers of color?
SIEGELSo, this has been a pretty methodical and deliberate approach over the years. We have now engaged the tracks across the country to identify talent as, you know, when kids get started in go carts, legends and they move up. What's exciting about Rajah, as we call him the virtual to reality driver where...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Yeah, we'll get to that in a second, yeah.
SIEGEL...yeah, the iRacing platform is a way to engage more people at a cost access point and get them really engaged in the sport and really identify talented drivers. But, again, the community outreach, the relationship with the track operators, the executives throughout NASCAR. So, it's a yearlong process that we have where you can apply online. And we get referrals from other team owners and people that just identify talent.
SIEGELSo, just like any other sport, we're out there scouting to find out who the next talented driver may be. And we're also out there doing the community programs to create an awareness to generate that interest in our young people in racing and motorsports, and then ultimately RevRacing and the Drive for Diversity program.
NNAMDIRajah, you did not take a conventional path to NASCAR racing. You came up through leagues in iRacing. Can you explain what iRacing is?
CARUTHYeah, so iRacing is a motorsport simulator used by pro drivers all around the world. And the tracks and cars are laser-scanned to every little detail, and the tracks are replicated digitally along with the cars. And there's a lot of different competitions on there where you'll have pro drivers, you know, that race on Sundays. And you'll have sim racers and kids like me, you know, be able to hop in a session and see Noah Gragson and Dale, Jr. or Chase Briscoe, you know. The list goes on of different drivers, you know, that you can see on there.
CARUTHAnd it's a really good platform, you know, easy to access. And especially the past year, NASCAR has really taken the lead in terms of trying to give some sim racers an opportunity to, you know, do what they love in real life.
NNAMDIHow different is it from other racing video games?
CARUTHIt's very different. The realism and the amount of work that, you know, goes into replicating real life in iRacing is so fine and so attention to detail. And, you know, the different work, all the work that goes into making sure that it is so specific is really incomparable, really, to anything else.
NNAMDISo how, for you, was the transition from iRacing to actual auto racing? How much harder is it compared to your competitors?
CARUTHIt wasn't seamless, I'll tell you that. And, you know, there's some things that you can take over from iRacing to real life, but there's some things you can't take over at all. And so you kind of have to train your mind in two different ways in order to approach each. But, at the end of the day, especially where I'm at now, you know, I can use iRacing for certain things and that'll help me in real life, and then just in general.
NNAMDIMax, how did the diversity program integrate with iRacers and other virtual racing leagues?
SIEGELYeah, so this has been the brain child of Jusan Hamilton -- which I have to give him a lot of credit -- I think probably 10 years ago. You know, again my wife as a pediatric dentist has her finger on the pulse of what gets young people excited and engaged. And this tool came out where it is, virtual reality, in terms of racing. So, we talked about it many years ago about how to utilize that to not only generate the interest, but to identify it.
SIEGELSo, at the beginning stages, there were skeptics that didn't really know whether the skills could translate into someone who's driving. Over the past two or three years, we've been really focused on creating a pathway for drivers like Rajah to go through to achieve at the highest level, and then be invited to our combine. So, on an annual basis, we have a youth combine and we have a national combine where we invited drivers to audition to be a part of our program. And we designated a spot in that combine process for those who achieve the highest levels of iRacing. So, it's been really exciting.
SIEGELWe've expanded the partnership with iRacing, and we've created an opportunity for drivers who participate in the iRacing leagues to come and test our cars and get a feel for what it's like to drive a real race car. So, it's constantly evolving. It's grown every year, and we're pretty excited about the future of that collaboration.
NNAMDIRajah, I know your dad, and I know how interested he probably is in your education. How do you balance school and racing? Both of your parents, as a matter of fact.
CARUTHYes, sir. Yeah, both, you know, parents being educators, you know, school comes first, for them. So, especially over the past year, you know, I would do my best to, you know, get all my work done at school, so when I would get home, I could, you know, hop on iRacing and be on right up until I need to go to bed. And whether I'm not on iRacing, watching racing, you know, watching the real-life stuff or studying onboard footage, I would always try to get, you know, the school stuff and the other stuff that I would need to do, out of the way and be able to, you know, devote all my attention to racing and not have, you know, something sitting in the back of head that I need to do later.
NNAMDIBecause you can't be a NASCAR driver forever. Here is Dale in Bloomington, Illinois. Dale, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DALEWell, thank you, sir, very much. I'm an African American NASCAR race fan, have been most of my life. I have to say, Jennifer and Max, we've been following you guys, my brothers, older brothers and I, we've been going to races. We followed the work that you guys have done. In fact, we started a little small, what we call, a diversity organization that we do at the Phoenix race. And we try to bring young kids of different backgrounds and colors to the race track to experience that, you know, there's more to NASCAR than just the cars going in a circle.
DALEBut my question to you, Jennifer and to Max, is: how does something like us who's a small group like that find a way to help, you know, drive out what you're trained to do across a more global basis? I mean, I'd like to be able to connect with somebody to say, hey, where else could we go with the smaller tracks or even some tracks, you know, that we normally don't go to to kind of meet with these organizations and try to bring more kids to the races?
NNAMDIMax and Jennifer, we have less than a minute left, but go ahead, please.
SIEGELYeah, quickly, we will -- definitely reach out to us, and we'll put our staff in touch. We're constantly looking for ways to partner and scale what we're doing.
SIEGELAnd it's really great to have people in the local markets. And, you know, so you can follow up directly with us. Jennifer and I will get someone in touch with you where we can explore that.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you...
SATTERFIELD-SIEGELI'm so excited to hear about this. So, yes, please make sure you reach out to us, so we can connect with you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got a tweet from Kaya, who said: so proud to be a part of the village of aunties, supporting Rajah as he charts a new course for African American youth in NASCAR. Thank you for sharing this important D.C. story. Quickly, Rajah, have you had community support in your journey to NASCAR?
CARUTH(overlapping) Most definitely. Most definitely. You know, friends, family from not just D.C. but from Atlanta, New York, you know, overseas and down in the Caribbean. It's been great just, you know, having a good support system with people that have your back, no matter what.
NNAMDIRajah Caruth is a senior at the School Without Walls high school in D.C. and an up-and-coming NASCAR driver. Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel is the owner of RevRacing, and Max Siegel is the CEO of RevRacing. Thank you all for joining us. This segment on the D.C. speed racer was produced by Richard Cunningham, and our conversation about education reform in Maryland was produced by Cydney Grannan.
NNAMDIWe're less than a week away from our Kojo in Your Community live town hall about changing immigration policies and their impact on local students and families. February 25th at the Columbia Heights educational campus. Tickets and more details at kojoshow.org Coming up tomorrow, what could a potential strike mean for the more than 280 Giant and Safeway grocery stores in the Washington region? And a tribe in Virginia is taking a stand against the construction of a water pump at the site of its ancient capital. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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