Jusan Hamilton set to become first Black race director for Daytona 500

As NASCAR ushers in a new era for the sport, Cup Series race director Jusan Hamilton is preparing to make history of his own in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

When drivers take the green flag for The Great American Race, Hamilton will be the first Black race director in Daytona 500 history. He’ll also be just the third different Daytona 500 race director since 1988, joining David Hoots and Tim Bermann in that span.

“A very proud accomplishment for me, personally,” Hamilton told NASCAR.com. “I’ve always said as I’ve set out on this journey to work in NASCAR and contribute to the sport that I’ve had a passion for since I was a kid, that I’ve wanted to contribute in a positive way. Both in helping lead the sport forward so we’re prepared for the future and reaching new audiences as we move toward that goal of growing the sport.”

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Hamilton’s 10-year career in NASCAR racing operations has been a series of breaking down diversity barriers. In July 2018 at Pocono Raceway, he became the first Black race director in the Cup Series. In March 2017, Hamilton took the reins of race control booth for an Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway.

Surely, making history in the Daytona 500 would come with pressure, but he’s focused on using previous knowledge from other Daytona races covered in years past, communicating with his team and studying notes to ensure he’s as prepared as possible.

“As long as I feel like I’ve put in the proper work leading into it, it’s more about executing and that’s what I’m focused on right now,” Hamilton said.

When he takes to the race director’s chair at the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway in NASCAR’s most prestigious race, he hopes it showcases that a career in the sport is within reach and paths are more available for those who feel it’s not a possibility.

“For me, it’s an accomplishment that I’ve put a lot of work into and a lot of effort into growing and building as a race director,” Hamilton said. “I hope, externally, it just sets a positive example for others that have an interest in motorsports that come from a diverse background or a background that you traditionally wouldn’t necessarily lead to being in motorsports or have a passion for motorsports like I do.”

Hamilton’s passion for racing started at a young age. At 10 years old, he dreamed of competing in the Daytona 500 and having a high level of success at the premier level. He grew up racing go-karts and mini sprints and eventually graduated to weekly Sportsman Modified cars around upstate New York, winning races and competing for track championships in the process.

While the lifelong vision to compete in the NASCAR national series realm wasn’t feasible at the time, Hamilton elected to end his driving career, earning a marketing communications and sociology degree at Ithaca College. After college, Hamilton earned a public relations internship at Watkins Glen International. He later accepted a position in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Internship Program with a focus on racing operations.

“You don’t really realize how all that experience can contribute at this level, but I’m proud to say that it has and the degrees that racing led me to in college I still feel like I use those every day,” Hamilton said. “Whether it’s managing the Drive for Diversity program, managing relationships with our broadcast partners, race tracks and competition when it comes to the event schedules and all the operations that go into that. If it wasn’t for racing, I wouldn’t be on that path. While I’m glad I found the goal and direction that I did, very thankful for the time that I had driving growing up. It really gives me the foundation that allows me to be doing what I’m doing today.”

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Now, Hamilton manages the Drive for Diversity program and has served as race director for a number of Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series events since early 2017. He credits opportunities to witness the sport from competition, business and fan angles as a large part in setting himself up for success to this day.

“There’s a lot of great people in this sport that I have the pleasure to work with and to learn from and then be able to take that experience and apply that at this level as a race director,” Hamilton said. “Making sure the product that we put out there on Sunday is a product that has the highest integrity, is well organized like we did for the Clash and the way all that was managed. That’s the important part for me, just really being able to apply all those years of experience, even before working at NASCAR, at this level.”

While executing a flawless race is high on the priority list for his first Daytona 500 as race director, Hamilton’s goal is to be a role model, thinking back to days growing up when people wondered why a kid from New York would have a desire to take this route.

“For me, my family always instilled in me that it’s not about the color of your skin, it’s not about your ethnicity or your race, it’s just about what you do and the work that you put in and the goals that you achieve,” Hamilton said. “Having said that, I understand it can be hard.

“I hope that by the example I’m setting, young girls and boys have more of a freedom to pursue their goals and have that support system around them that can look at what I’m doing, or what others are doing and say, yes, it is possible.”