Langley Speedway’s repaving last winter provided an added challenge for the 20 drivers participating in the 2013 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine. Not only did the already tough .4-mile oval get faster, it meant even the drivers who had previously competed in the Combine there faced new conditions.
The drivers passed that test Tuesday with flying colors.
After spending Monday at Hampton University with the fitness and iRacing evaluations, the drivers were eager to climb into one of three Late Models outfitted for the day-long practice session Tuesday. Each of the 20 drivers went out for individual sessions in the morning, and then returned to the car for longer single-car runs in the afternoon.
"It is a very demanding track," said Rev Racing CEO and owner Max Siegel. "We chose it initially so we can get a feel for the skills of the drivers. Our evaluation has expanded. We're giving them more seat time out there on the track. And just working here with the management at Langley Speedway and the NASCAR officials has been a great step for the program."
For many, like Paige Decker of Eagle River, Wis., it wasn’t just a new track, but a different car.
"I'm comfortable on this track, so it was really just learning how to ease into the gas," said Decker. "I'm used to driving a Super Late Model, so I'm trying to tone down my driving a lot for this kind of car."
Decker participated in the Combine last year. This year, her younger sister Claire and cousin Natalie also earned the opportunity to try out for the 2014 Rev Racing team.
"Coming in, I was way more confident and was able to tell my younger sister and cousin what to expect,” said Paige Decker. “They had a really good idea of what they were getting into, and I was expected to do so much better because I had been here before."
"I'm really happy with not only how I did but how my sister did. I really think the times are so close, but I really feel like we're there. I'm very happy and pleased with the results."
This is the third year the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program – created in 2004 and now executed by Rev Racing – has partnered with Langley. The NASCAR D4D program is designed to identify and train young female and diverse drivers at the grassroots level who demonstrate necessary talent to climb the ranks within the motorsport industries.
The drivers represent 12 U.S. states and Mexico and come from a wide array of racing experience.
Jay Beasley earned an invitation to the Combine after a 2013 season in which the Las Vegas driver won the Super Late Model championship at The Bullring At Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Nevada championship in his first full season.
"This is an experience that's just mind-blowing for me," said Beasley. "I've been thinking about this my whole life. Coming to an event like this and being chosen just to try out for something like this means that other people trust me to represent them. It means a lot to me.
"It's a big opportunity. It's life changing."
Jack Madrid knows what Beasley is talking about. The San Clemente, Calif., driver made the cut last year and spent this season running a Late Model for Rev Racing.
"It was a great year being with Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. I learned a lot and can't thank them enough," said Madrid. "This year we have a lot of great people out here testing at the Combine and definitely lit a little fire under me -- my seats on the line. These guys are getting the opportunity of a lifetime and should definitely be proud of themselves.”
Five different Rev Racing drivers have accounted for 12 wins in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series – NASCAR’s top touring series for drivers looking to make it to the national-series level – since Rev Racing began fielding cars for D4D in 2010. In addition, they’ve had a driver finish in the top three in points each of the four seasons.
This year, four drivers from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program – Kyle Larson, Paulie Harraka, Darrell Wallace Jr., and Ryan Gifford – competed in an event in one of NASCAR’s three national series.
"This is the year we had the most applications, the talent pool is deeper than ever," said Siegel. "The success we've had with the program has generated more interest. And the immense amount of talent on the track today is the result."
The 2013 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine participants include:
Devon Amos, 22 Rio Rancho, N.M.
Annabeth Barnes, 18 Mooresville, N.C.
George Beasley, 21 Las Vegas, Nev.
Nicole Behar, 15 Otis Orchards, Wash.
Ryan Bernal, 19 Hollister, Calif.
Collin Cabre, 19 Thonotosassa, Fla.
Meagan Creech, 20 Ashland, Va.
Claire Decker, 18 Eagle River, Wis.
Paige Decker, 20 Eagle River, Wis.
Natalie Decker, 16 Eagle River, Wis.
Ruben Garcia, Jr., 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Blake Kisner, 18 Chanute, Kan.
Katlynn Leer, 14 St. Moulton, Iowa
Jack Madrid, 18 San Clemente, Calif.
Hannah Newhouse, 16 Twin Falls, Idaho
Sergio Pena, 20 Catharpin, Va.
Dylan Smith, 21 Randolph, Vt.
Kenny Stewart II, 16 Carson, Calif.
Cody Thompson, 20 Fremont, Calif.
Sam Wright, 18 Vancouver, Wash.
An additional eight young drivers will join these 20 drivers on Oct. 23 and compete for the opportunity to drive for Rev Racing during the 2014 Summer Shootout Series in INEX Legends and Bandoleros.
Jairo Avila, 17 Alhambra, Calif.
Austin Geer, 11 Johns Creek, Ga.
Kylin Hammer, 11 Meadowview, Va.
Ryleigh Lemonds, 10 Yorktown, Va.
Enrique Limon, 15 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna, 7 Newport News, Va.
Ashley Rogero, 15 Naples, Fla.
Walter Thomas, 15 Indianapolis, Ind.