On Fast Track To Success

Minorities, Women Gain Experience Through Nascar Internship Program

July 21, 2009|By Aaron Wright | Aaron Wright,aaron.wright@baltsun.com

Anim Amarsingh likens his hometown of Los Iros Bay in Trinidad and Tobago to Concord, N.C., in many ways - the greenery, the fresh air and just about everything else except for the loud roar of NASCAR engines. Amarsingh, a rising junior at Morgan State, is spending his summer in Concord as an intern taking part in the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program.

Amarsingh - who is working with the NASCAR Research & Development team - had more than a cursory interest in racing before joining the program. His father, a University of Texas graduate, introduced him to NASCAR at a young age. And while Trinidad and Tobago might not have the most fervent, tradition-steeped fan base, Amarsingh says interest in the sport is growing.

"There are a lot of auto racing fans in Trinidad and the other islands," he said.

Amarsingh, 19, is one of 13 minority college students or recent graduates participating in NDIP, which was founded in June 2000. The program provides participants with a 10-week paid summer internship in the motor sports industry. NDIP's goal is to create a more diverse work force within the sport, said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR's managing director of public affairs.

"The NASCAR Diversity Internship Program has introduced dozens of students from diverse backgrounds to professional opportunities in NASCAR," Jadotte said.

"The program has played an important role in NASCAR's efforts to attract the best and brightest to our industry."

One NDIP intern in 10 goes on to gain full-time employment in NASCAR. The private company does not provide figures on how much of its work force is made up of minorities. Of 246 drivers in the sport this season, four are women and four are men of color, a NASCAR spokesman said.

Amarsingh, who studies electrical engineering at Morgan, said he was fascinated at an early age by the mechanical principles involved in NASCAR.

"I like anything automotive," he said. He's "definitely more of a fan now that I've learned how in-depth and expansive engineering is in NASCAR."

Amarsingh has spent his time in Concord designing a system evaluating the solvent in self-venting coupling systems. Currently, NASCAR uses multiple systems to test each solvent. Amarsingh's task has been to research and design one uniform testing method. "There's nobody leaning over and watching. I know what I have to do to finish the projects," he said.

Not all NDIP participants come to the program as well-versed on the sport as Amarsingh. Courtney McKnight - an alumnus of Thomas Johnson High in Frederick and a recent graduate of Johnson C. Smith University - acknowledges that she wasn't the biggest racing fan before landing her internship with The 909 Group, a marketing firm that handles public relations for the NASCAR diversity program.

"I didn't know much about it. I've been reading NASCAR for Dummies," she said.

McKnight, 21, learned of the program through a friend who interned for NASCAR the previous year. So far, McKnight said, the internship program has been everything she had hoped for.

"She's heavily involved," said Max Siegel, the founding partner of The 909 Group. "NASCAR is a $5 billion business, and she's getting practical experience here."

Siegel's relationship with the NFL led to The 909 Group becoming one of NASCAR's most important partners.

Siegel, a lawyer based in Charlotte, N.C., negotiated Hall of Fame defensive lineman Reggie White's deal with the Carolina Panthers. Through White, Siegel was introduced to former Washington Redskins coach and racing mogul Joe Gibbs. Gibbs and his son, J.D., were formulating a plan to recruit and develop minority talent for NASCAR. The plans, however, fell apart after White died in December 2004.

Siegel went on to become president of global operations at Dale Earnhardt Inc. for two years, and it was that appointment that led to his firm being chosen for the NDIP.

As one of the most high-profile African-Americans involved in the sport, Siegel has gladly taken on the role of NASCAR ambassador.

"This sport is appealing to everyone," Siegel said.

"There are people who watch for the celebrities that come, the speed, the strategy."

Columbia native Lindsay Bowen, a North Carolina A&T graduate, interned with XM Satellite Radio Communications in 2005. Now she works on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the Octagon Consulting Group. Some of her responsibilities include managing interns, including NDIP participants.

"I consider myself a success story ... coming from the only historically black university with a motor sports program, interning and then gaining full-time employment to be paid for exposing others to the same opportunities I was afforded," Bowen said. "It can't get better than that. I enjoy sharing my path into the motor sports industry. Once students hear my story, I know they feel empowered to make a path of their own."

Count Amarsingh as one current NDIP intern hoping to create his own path into NASCAR.

"Absolutely" he wants to work in NASCAR, he said.

"The people working here have the same passion and philosophy for engineering I do."

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