CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For 13 young men and women, Thursday could be the first day of the rest of their lives.
The driver roster for the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine was announced Thursday morning at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, with 13 drivers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines among those selected to participate.
The drivers, ranging in age from 13-19, will participate in the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine in November, when they will be judged in a variety of areas with only a portion of those participating ultimately selected for the Drive for Diversity Driver Development program.
“We talk about building and widening the pipeline, and that’s exactly what this is about,” said Brandon Thompson, NASCAR’s vice president of diversity and inclusion. “That starts at the grassroots level regardless of what color you are or whether you are male or female.
“The NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series is a feeder system into the rest of the sport, so it’s vital we fill that pipeline with talent, number one, but diverse talent is a double win for us.”
The list of drivers accepted for the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine include competitors from seven states and Mexico. They include newcomer Katie Hettinger, who made headlines this season by becoming the winningest female competitor in the history of North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway.
Hettinger’s accolades include a Limited Late Model victory during the 2021 edition of the Bobby Isaac Memorial, one of Hickory’s biggest events. She’s also scheduled to make her ARCA Menards Series West debut on Oct. 14 at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I think [the Combine] is going to help me with my race craft and a little bit of everything,” said the 15-year-old Hettinger, who is from Dryden, Michigan. “My media skills aren’t the best, but hopefully they get better with the Combine. My feedback to the crew chief, hopefully it helps with that, and I’m pretty sure it will.
“I’m really hoping to get the ARCA ride for Rev (Racing). I really hope that will happen.”
Rev Racing serves as the driver development arm of the Drive for Diversity program and is overseen by Rev Racing CEO Max Siegel. Among the 13 Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine competitors are five current Rev Racing drivers, including Justin Campbell (age 17), Andres Perez de Lara (17), Jaiden Reyna (16), Lavar Scott (19) and Regina Sirvent (19).
“Obviously the Combine is a really good place to, I don’t want to say measure yourself, but definitely compete against people from different backgrounds,” said Reyna, who is completing his first season racing Late Model Stock Cars for Rev Racing and veteran Late Model competitor and team owner Kres VanDyke. “Some of these [drivers] are from Mexico, some of these [drivers] started on dirt. It’s very good to see how well you stack up and what you need to improve on.”
In addition to Hettinger, Quinn Davis (13), Eloy Sebastian Lopez Falcon (17), Caleb Johnson (15), Nathan Lyons (13), Jordon Riddick (17), Paige Rogers (19) and Lucas Vera (15) are new to the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine.
The Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine isn’t just about a driver’s on-track skill. The competitors also learn how to better work with media and build their own brands, two crucial steps all drivers must face as they work their way up the development ladder to NASCAR’s national series.
“You want to partner with those things that are most indicative and linked with your brand,” said Jason McDonell, Advance Auto Parts’ executive vice president of merchandising, marketing and e-commerce. “For us to be able help these young people literally learn and define what their brand is, is really important. Along the way they get a little bit of experience, a little bit of training by working with us. I think it’s really going to help them.”
The ultimate goal for each of the 13 drivers taking part in the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine is to follow in the footsteps of Drive for Diversity graduates like Kyle Larson, Daniel Suárez and Bubba Wallace, all of whom now race in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Before they do that, they first must be selected for the Drive for Diversity program. To do that, they must impress during the Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine.
“I had a great opportunity to spend some time talking to a bunch of them and you can see the fire in their eyes and their willingness to learn and already their eagerness in the types of questions they were asking me,” said McDonell. “You can sort of see a future leader from a mile away. Whether it’s a future leader or a great driver on the track, I’m really excited about supporting them.”