Following the announcement Sunday that Boys & Girls Clubs of America will become the Official Youth Community Partner of NASCAR, NASCAR President Steve Phelps met with the media to discuss that topic and a variety of others. The complete transcript:
An Interview with: Steve Phelps, President of NASCAR, and Jim Clark, CEO and President, Boys & Girls Clubs of America
THE MODERATOR: Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us today on race day at Talladega Superspeedway.
I’d like to welcome two special guests: the president of NASCAR, Steve Phelps, and the CEO and president of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Jim Clark. Thank you gentlemen for being here today for what is an exciting announcement. Thank you for the time to talk about it.
We’ll start off with Steve. Can you talk about just briefly the announcement and how important it is for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to be part of the NASCAR family now.
STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, we’re so fortunate to have the Boys & Girls Clubs be part of it. Jim and his whole team, they’ve been a pleasure to work with. We’ve worked with Boys & Girls Clubs for many, many years. To announce a national partnership with local extensions is something that we are just thrilled about.
When you think about the opportunity to touch four, five million kids at a time, both with experiential things here at the racetrack, but also things we would do kind of online and at the clubs, we just couldn’t be happier to have them as our newest partner.
THE MODERATOR: Jim, what is it like to have NASCAR part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America family?
JIM CLARK: Well, we’re tremendously excited about this partnership and becoming the official community youth partner of NASCAR. This is a significant, significant relationship in many ways, as Steve indicated.
First and foremost we’ll focus on helping youth, because this is all about kids and teens, really pick up some of the loss that they’ve seen over the last year because of the COVID-19 virus. There will be a learning component of this. It ties directly to NASCAR. STEM: Science, technology, engineering and math.
Inside of that is really the crux of this for kids, giving them exposure and the opportunity to experience the thrill of NASCAR racing, but also what potentially in terms of a job or a career could come out of that.
As Steve said, they’ll get to go to the track at every community where there’s a race, then we’ll also bring it to them remotely through technology and our device-based learning platform MyFuture.
We have really, really enjoyed the early stages of this partnership and working with the NASCAR team. Today is just the beginning. It’s just an announcement today of this partnership. What will come after this is really what will touch down at the local club level, and that’s opportunities for kids. That’s what Boys & Girls Clubs is all about. NASCAR sees that.
Again, that’s the beauty of this partnership, enabling all young people to realize their full potential, be life or work ready, and go on to have a great future.
THE MODERATOR: Very exciting announcement. With that, I will open it up to the media for questions for Steve and Jim.
I wanted to drill down into some of the activations for this, some of the possibilities. I have visions of one-on-one interactions with drivers, teams, things of that nature. Is that going to be a piece of the activations with this, you guys kind of facilitating those?
JIM CLARK: You’re spot on. Part of the activation will be interaction not just with drivers but really with their team as well. That could be the pit crew. It could be some of the marketing side of the house. So there will be opportunities at NASCAR.
I think another unique part, and Steve can give a little bit more on this, is really NASCAR is bringing to the table their platform, the industry’s platform, and it will extend all the way across really all NASCAR touch points.
This will go deep. Yes, with mentors and career guidance, explaining what they do, how they’ve gotten to the stage they’re at. It’s exactly how the program will touch down locally. Great question.
STEVE PHELPS: In addition, I think one thing, just to drivers, crews, the teams broadly, we have a significant number of shared partners. You think of FOX, NBC, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Toyota, many others frankly. I think there’s a real opportunity to create some joint content and opportunities to touch and really bring these things to the kids.
Really, the key winners in all this will be the kids. You think about STEM, you think about job opportunities. We have 10s of thousands of jobs here at NASCAR. To kind of expose these jobs, what it’s like to be part of the NASCAR community, is something that we’re really excited about.
Jim, in what ways have you found previous engagements with organizations making an impact on the Boys & Girls Clubs, some of the best practices, things that NASCAR can maybe pick up on or push things forward for your organization?
JIM CLARK: Thank you for the question. It’s a good one because we do have set of best practices, if you will, when we look at supporters, sponsors or partners.
In this case, this is a partnership. As we think about that, that’s where we bring together the assets of both organizations. Of course, NASCAR will amplify those as we go forward.
A great example will be around marketing, how we can co-brand, co-market not just the partnership but really what it’s going to do for kids. As Steve said, this is all about kids and teens, giving them exposures to opportunities and experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have. It really is leveling the playing field.
We’ve got kids with us today from the local club here in Alabama. They are so excited. Most of them have never been to a race before, a NASCAR race, nor have they experienced what NASCAR is all about and the opportunities. It’s a small example, but a big one in terms of how a partner like NASCAR is bringing all of their assets to the table for the singular purpose of helping youth and helping develop their experience and skills for the future.
Steve, this is a great partnership to help a lot of youth around the country. But NASCAR has marketed to youth for a number of years. I think back to the cartoons, the racers, all that. How much of an impact or influence was that on this decision? Obviously those youthful fans are going to turn into adult fans one day. How much did that play into wanting to form this partnership?
STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, actually I would say the motivation behind it for sure. Like any brand, any franchise out there, if you’re not getting new people into the franchise, particularly young people in this case, your brand is going to die.
I think what you’ve seen in NASCAR over the last year, based on some of the stances that NASCAR has taken, the diversity, equity, inclusion space, young people want to participate in this sport.
It’s not that we didn’t have efforts before. We’ve had a lot of efforts in youth. But I think as we’ve opened up, as I kind of think about the lens of this, the aperture of this lens, to include people of color, younger people who really probably didn’t think that NASCAR was for them. I think now you see that this is for them.
The most exciting part, we had a bunch of kids, as Jim said, from the local chapter, a dozen, 15 kids, just seeing their faces, looking at the awe of what’s happening here, the size of this facility, they’ve never had this experience before. Replicating that across the country with our racing, then really these other opportunities for them to understand our sport better.
We want to have lifelong fans. I think this will be a good partnership for us to be able to do just that.
JIM CLARK: I couldn’t agree more. The three pieces that are critical to this partnership really is the STEM learning opportunities, the experience or the exposure to workplace or workforce opportunities, and the diversity, equity and inclusion part of this, which is the three components of this partnership.
We are really excited about that.
Steve, part of this announcement today is about diversity, equity and inclusion. Where would you say that NASCAR’s diversity program is compared to a year ago at this time?
STEVE PHELPS: Well, I think if you think about the extraordinary events that we started with Atlanta, the banning of the Confederate flag, then what happened here in Talladega, kind of the support, family, community and the tapestry of our industry supporting Bubba Wallace. I think they’re significantly different.
I would say probably chief among those was probably the banning of the Confederate flag because we had done a lot of incredible things. You think about the Drive for Diversity program, the dozens of diverse interns that we have every summer, all these different programs.
But I think the banning of the flag really just kind of opened things up. It was a (indiscernible) for us to bring more people in. I think it’s changed our sport and the face of our sport forever.
Michael Jordan, Pitbull from an ownership perspective. I think there will be others, frankly. Then from the fan perspective. You look at how the corporate community thinks about NASCAR and our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Really one of the most important things for us, it needed to start at home, it needed to start with us. Continuing the efforts we had for a while to diversify our workforce, training our workforce in different places, sensitivity training, unconscious bias training, really important for us.
We started employee resource groups. We have an ally council, a diversity council. All those things were critical to get right for us. We’re not done. This is a journey that we’re on. It really is about action.
I know there have been a lot of folks, a lot of different organizations that put out press releases when something terrible happens. We are not going to be about press releases, we’re going to be about action. Everything we do in this space is going to be about action.
As I said, it’s a journey that’s unending, frankly. We just have to continue to get better.
One member of the diversity program is Raja Caruth. Had success at a grassroots level. Have you had any interaction with him, and what your experiences have been like, if you have?
STEVE PHELPS: Yeah, I actually spent a lot of time with Raja. We’re really excited about Raja. I think he’s got some real talent. He’s got personality. I spent some time with Bubba talking about Raja. I know Bubba has worked with Raja trying to help him as well.
Any opportunity frankly for us within that program, Max Siegel and his team at Rev Racing have done a terrific job. When you think of the folks that have gone through that program, the racers that have gone through that program, it’s a who’s who, even at the Cup level now with Daniel Suarez and Bubba and Kyle Larson.
We have to continue the efforts there. I think whether it’s Raja or kind of this pipeline I think that we’re seeing from Mexico, as well, then obviously getting women, girls and women, involved in the program, it’s really, really an important element of diversifying our driver base.
I’m hoping you guys can expand a little bit on the STEM element of this program.
JIM CLARK: That’s a great question. I can lead off and Steve can add on.
If you think about science, technology, engineering and math, it’s so critical that kids and teens have these skills today. Most jobs, as we move into the future, are going to have one or all of the components of that.
As part of this partnership, we’ll have experiences both virtually through our remote devices that focuses on how STEM is used, for example, at NASCAR.
Now, it doesn’t necessarily have to all be track related. This could be in the booth or the producer, the marketing side of this, if you will. There will be experiences that will be developed to support that, all four of those areas, how it ties to NASCAR. That’s kind of the crux of it, but it’s a key element of this partnership.
STEVE PHELPS: One other thing to think about, we’re just now working with Jim and his team on what that curriculum is going to look like. But I think Jim is exactly right. I mean, is there a more fun opportunity for kids to learn about STEM than NASCAR? That’s really what it’s meant to be.
They don’t realize they’re actually learning something that is going to be helpful for them. That ultimately could lead to job opportunities, as well, whether in NASCAR or other places.
That curriculum will be developed. We’ll work with Jim and his team, our engineers, other folks that will really highlight what it is to be at NASCAR, work at NASCAR, in these really curriculum-based opportunities in STEM.
Steve, you mentioned Michael Jordan, Pitbull coming in as owners. You said you think there will be even more like them. How much has the last 10 months or so since the banning of the Confederate flag maybe opened up your eyes in the hindsight 20/20 way to just how much the symbol of the Confederate flag and its association with NASCAR was holding this sport back with many people in this country?
STEVE PHELPS: Listen, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to athletes, celebrities, regular people about the banning of the flag. Really the common theme was, I just didn’t think this sport was for me.
I guess intuitively I knew that, right, because you’re like, It just doesn’t feel right for me. And now when you hear people talk about that, saying, I can’t wait to go to a race, it will be my first race. That to me I think is really exciting.
I just think we are in a different place than we were. That part is fantastic. I think we were in a situation where the sport was growing in 2019, our ratings were growing, our ticket sales were coming back nicely, but until the banning of that flag, it was really about just continuing to be where we were with the same group of people.
I think the thing that’s most exciting for me is people understanding the NASCAR community in the sense of family and community that exists as part of NASCAR. I don’t think people saw that before.
You think about coming to a facility like Talladega, the welcoming spirit that comes with coming to a racetrack, right? You go through the campground, people want to have a conversation with you, want to give you a beer, want to talk about racing, want to talk about your favorite driver. I think that people didn’t really understand that who weren’t part of the NASCAR community.
You all know about it. I know about it. That’s what we experience when we come to the racetrack. Now when we’re bringing other people to the racetrack, they’re feeling that, as well. I think that’s a sense of awe or just surprise is probably the best way to put it.
The Boys & Girls Clubs is really an organization that’s a day-to-day program that gives these kids organization in their lives. NASCAR comes to town once or twice a year. What is the aspect of that aspect of how they can affect these kids on a day-to-day basis out there in the Boys & Girls Clubs across the United States?
JIM CLARK: Great question. A couple answers here.
First and foremost, as described, when NASCAR comes to a community, there will be on-the-ground and integrated programs and exposure for kids race day and at their club. Obviously that’s not every community.
Through the programs that are being designed, we will bring this across the country to all clubs through our digital learning platform, which is called MyFuture. Then there will be other elements that we’ll be able to bring to life, like the STEM programming at local clubs across the country.
It doesn’t have to just be in race communities, NASCAR communities. It will be in every community and every Boys & Girls Club as we move forward.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Jim. Enjoy the race today. Thank you for joining us.
JIM CLARK: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll continue with questions for Steve.
On a day that NASCAR announces an inclusion partnership, how would you address the optics of a female driver with more than 200 national series starts not being approved for an event, and a driver approval process that seems ambiguous at best in who is allowed to compete when and where?
STEVE PHELPS: Listen, I think obviously the question around Jennifer Jo Cobb, her not being approved. Steve O’Donnell, Scott Miller, Elton Sawyer, these guys have decades of experience in this sport. In their opinion, Jennifer did not have the experience necessary in order to run in the Cup race.
I understand it may seem ambiguous to those outside, but I think that they have their finger on the pulse, and in their opinion Jennifer wasn’t ready to race in this race.
With that said, we certainly, to your point, on a day where we’re talking about inclusion, would love to have female drivers racing in our top series. That’s something that we very much would be interested in doing.
We’re trying to diversify our driver core, women, people of color. Those are things that are very important to this sport. But as it relates to Jennifer, the group felt she was not ready.
Steve, so far I’ve only seen Bubba Wallace and Denny Hamlin post about getting vaccinated. What are you doing from a sanctioning body standpoint to encourage drivers to get vaccinated?
STEVE PHELPS: That’s a good question.
Obviously we had a town hall the other day with our employees, and I encouraged all of our employees to get vaccinated. I think it’s important for our company, I think it’s important for our sport, I think it’s important for the country overall. I am fortunate enough to have had both of my shots, have been clear for about four weeks.
As it relates to the drive core, I think you’ll probably see more and more, and we’ll ask the drivers frankly to try to promote the vaccination process. I think it’s really important.
They have a voice. That voice carries a lot of weight. To the degree that we can help with folks who are uncertain about whether they want to get the vaccine, I think it would be critical to have those with the loudest voice within the sport talking about their vaccinations.
INDYCAR is requiring drivers and crew members to either be vaccinated or be tested daily during the Indy 500 week. Have you considered that policy?
STEVE PHELPS: I think for us, it’s a bit of a slippery slope, right? I won’t talk out of both sides of my mouth.
It is important, in my opinion, that people get vaccinated. I’ll say that for me personally. We will continue to monitor and change our policy as necessary in order to make sure that people are safe.
We are certainly monitoring. I won’t get into the numbers specifically, but the number of people who are in this garage that have been vaccinated continues to steadily rise. We track that through our process on a weekly basis as people are filling out their health forms or through their phone or online. Those things are important to us, so we’ll continue to do that.
To the degree we think we need to make a change to that policy, that’s something that we’ll continue to explore.
Steve, you mentioned earlier this year that there were discussions about NASCAR potentially going to a hybrid electric model in the future. I’m wondering if there’s a timeline for when you expect we could see some of those moves towards electrification?
STEVE PHELPS: I think right now it’s something that we are certainly having a lot of discussions with our OEM partners about. The NextGen car will certainly have the opportunity, if we decide to go to some form of electrification in a hybrid vehicle or hybrid engine, that the NextGen car has the opportunity for us to drop that engine in there.
The timing of it, it’s a difficult one, right? I would have said before COVID, we’re maybe looking at ’23. Timelines are tough just because we need to make sure that all the stakeholders who matter in this discussion, which are our race teams, our OEM partners, that they’re all aligned on what that would look like. It could be ’24.
I think frankly the opportunity to have a new OEM partner will largely depend on what happens with that hybrid engine.
Steve, as noted often, NASCAR took some bold steps with social justice and its positions over the last year. There’s been a lot of strict voting laws passed in states of late. Does NASCAR have a position on any of those laws, some of them in states that NASCAR does race in?
STEVE PHELPS: I think for us, and I talked about it before, about trying to do things, we’re going to be a sport that is bold, we’re going to be a sport that is of action in the DE&I space, a subset of that being social justice.
But we need to do it really consistent with our DNA, consistent with what’s authentic to our sport. I don’t think that’s an area that we are going to lean in. I think we can probably do a better job pushing the diversity, equity, inclusion, some of these social justice issues in places that are not kind of in that particular area.
Doesn’t mean it’s not important, but I think we’re going — our whole message is going to be about not dividing, ours is going to be about bringing together. It’s going to be about welcoming, being inclusive in our sport, whether at a facility, whether you’re participating in some other way or fashion.
As of now, the answer would be no.
THE MODERATOR: Steve, thanks so much for the extra time and all the time today. Enjoy the race at Talladega and congrats on this partnership.
STEVE PHELPS: Thank you.
— NASCAR —