IndyCar seeks more diverse fan base

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- We know to expect cars running over 200 miles an hour.

We know speed is the name of the game.

But not everything moves so fast in IndyCar.

In 103 years of speed, more than 51,000 miles, and 3,000 cars, only two African Americans have ever raced in the Indy 500: Willie T. Ribbs and George Mack.

But the company running the sport wants that to change, for the good of the sport.

"Until you can see it people have a right to be skeptical to be frank. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we were serious about it," said IndyCar executive Stephen Starks.

As vice president of promoter and media partner relations, Starks is IndyCar’s chief deal maker, developing the series schedule and global TV contracts.

"Diversity makes any business or any sport better," he said.

IndyCar’s long been known for drivers from around the world. Starks wants to see more black Americans joining him on and off the track. But he says the elephant in the room is, by and large, black people aren’t watching and aren’t connecting.

"Access has always been a barrier in sports," Starks said.

"We have to work to lower or reduce those barriers for entry."

Starks is a member of a recently formed diversity committee at IndyCar’s owner Hulman & Company, looking for ways to expand the sport’s reach. At the karting level, the NexGeneracer program has pulled in many kids of color. Also recently, IMS has hosted hundreds of IPS kids to see their first race up close.

And Hulman is looking to recruit more African Americans for jobs at headquarters.

"Once you start to see those kind of participants, then maybe more follow. But the key is to start," Starks said.

"Then everyone can tell everyone and hopefully you can start to see it just evolve," he said.

"And that needs to spread across the teams and all the stakeholders in the sport."

But even at blinding speeds on the track, change takes time.

"I would say it sounds like lip service until we show it. I think we’re starting to but there’s plenty of work to be done."

A race against a still distant finish line.

"The proof will be in the pudding," Starks said bluntly.

Back in 2012, Chase Austin hoped to become the third black American to race at IMS in May, but his shot with AJ Foyt Racing fell through.

Last year, Starks says the crowd at the Indy 500 was more diverse than five years ago. Seven percent of the fans in the stands were black. Seven percent were Hispanic. Three percent were Asian.

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