He’s always dreamed of working in NASCAR!
Jusan Hamilton set to make history as the first Black Daytona 500 race director, ESPN reports.
Hamilton is an upstate New York native who developed a love for motorsports at a young age. He and his family would visit the racetrack often, Hamilton getting a rush from the sport but never really seeing anyone that looked like him out there on the track. While many always asked him why he took an interest in the sport, Hamilton says it boiled down to one simple reason - passion.
“For me, it was: ‘This is what I enjoy.’ This is what I love doing. There’s a huge connection with me and my family to go to the racetrack each weekend and spend the time together,” said Hamilton.
While he pursued a career behind the wheel initially, financial constraints on his family prevented him from going all the way. Nonetheless, Hamilton found his way to NASCAR, working behind the scenes where he’s been now for more than a decade, serving in a number of capacities from event production and social media to heading up the series’ Drive for Diversity program, the same program that rejected him as a teen. Hamilton was also named race director for NASCAR’s three national series.
Now, the 31-year-old is set to make history, becoming the first Black race director to oversee the Daytona 500. In the role, Hamilton will be responsible for manning the race, handling everything from cautions and penalties to the clean-up crew and navigating the official debut race for NASCAR’s Next Gen car. It’s the accomplishment of a lifetime but Hamilton said he knew his hard work would get him far.
“It’s not necessarily about being the first Black man to call the Daytona 500. Career-wise, it’s a huge accomplishment for me, with the passion I’ve had for motorsports. Bigger picture, I hope it sets a positive example for others that, regardless of race and background, if you work hard and have a mindset toward your goal, it is achievable,” Hamilton said.
While Hamilton said he’s always felt welcome at NASCAR, he is happy that the company made their values clear as it relates to diversity and inclusion, saying the company has “taken huge steps in [their] public perception.”
In 2020, Michael Jordan made history as the first Black majority owner of a full-time NASCAR Cup Series team, hiring Bubba Wallace, the NASCAR Cup Series’ only Black driver as his star driver.
"Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters, and me to races, and I've been a NASCAR fan my whole life. The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me," Jordan said. "Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity, and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more," Jordan said at the time.
Wallace went on to be victorious, making history as the first Black driver to win a NASCAR CUP race since 1963 during a competition at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR has continued to make strides, re-examining their strategies from the top down, naming longtime NASCAR employee Brandon Thompson Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion and nurturing pipelines to a career at NASCAR through programs like their NASCAR pit crew member program. The program recently saw success stories like Brehanna Daniels, the first Black woman to be hired as a member of a NASCAR pit crew.
“God couldn’t have picked anybody else better to do the job. It takes a strong person to be able to make that change...knowing the history of NASCAR and the faces people are used to seeing on the track. Even though I was a little nervous at first because I didn’t know how I would be judged or looked at, I’m like, ‘You know what? Somebody has to do this, and I guess I’m going to be the one to do this,” Daniels previously told reporters.
Now Hamilton is hoping to continue paving the way for the next generation, living proof that anything you put your mind to is possible.
“People have this perception that it’s not really for you. I hope that by what I’m doing, the next age group that’s coming up and has an interest like I do, they don’t get those sideways looks and those questions of why. It’s more something that shows, yes, this is achievable. Someone has set an example, and the pathway is there. If this is what you want to do, by all means pursue the goal and you get that kind of support,” said Hamilton.
Congratulations, Jusan! Wishing you all the best in your new role.
Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press