Un­veil of 2018 NASCAR Drive for Di­ver­sity class marks new method­ol­ogy

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL & LOCAL SPORTS - By REID SPENCER NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

CON­CORD, N.C. — At Rev Rac­ing’s head­quar­ters, with posters of dis­tin­guished NASCAR Drive for Di­ver­sity grad­u­ates lin­ing the walls, NASCAR’s Ju­san Hamil­ton and Rev Rac­ing CEO Max Siegel in­tro­duced the six drivers in the 2018 Drive for Di­ver­sity De­vel­op­ment Team.

The class is new, and so is the ap­proach. By de­sign, the num­ber of drivers is smaller than in re­cent years, and that means more seat time for each of the par­tic­i­pants.

Along with new­comer Ryan Var­gas, 17, of La Mi­rada, Calif., Drive for Di­ver­sity vet­er­ans Chase Cabre, 20, of Tampa, Fla., and Ruben Gar­cia, 21, of Mex­ico City will com­pete full-time in the K&N Pro Series East, as well as aug­ment­ing their de­vel­op­ment with ad­di­tional Late Model stock car races.

“We wanted to get the high­est­cal­iber ap­pli­cants,” Siegel told the NASCAR Wire Ser­vice. “We wanted to get fewer that we could eval­u­ate, and then we wanted to give them one­and-a-half to two times the races they were get­ting. So we’ll be able to test, we’ll be able to run Late Mod­els as well as K&N.

“We’ll be able to in­crease seat time, do a lot of the off-track train­ing— whether it’s phys­i­cal train­ing, build­ing on the psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­file or do­ing a lot of the off-track com­mer­cial train­ing. There’s more ac­count­abil­ity and more con­sis­tent as­sess­ment, so we can tell the drivers where they are from week to week.”

In ad­di­tion to the K&N Pro Series East drivers, the 2018 Drive for Di­ver­sity De­vel­op­ment Team also in­cludes 19-year-old Ernie Fran­cis Jr. of Da­nia, Fla., who has four Trans Am Series cham­pi­onships to his credit and will tran­si­tion from road rac­ing to ovals by run­ning K&N road-course events as well as se­lect Late Model races.

Two suc­cess­ful Le­gends Cars drivers com­plete the group of six an­nounced on Tues­day: Nick Sanchez, 16 of Homestead, Fla., who will grad­u­ate to full-time Late Model rac­ing in 2018; and 13-year-old Is­abella Ro­busto of Fort Mill, S.C., who was third over­all in points in the Bo­jan­gles Sum­mer Shootout Series at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way this year.

Ro­busto is the first of four drivers to be se­lected for Rev Rac­ing’s Youth Driver Pro­gram and will con­tinue her de­vel­op­ment in Le­gends Cars next year.

Cabre, who was sixth in the K&N Pro Series East stand­ings and run­ner-up for Sunoco Rookie of the Year hon­ors this sea­son, rel­ishes the op­por­tu­nity for ad­di­tional time be­hind the well.

“I think it’ll be huge to run as many races as we’re go­ing to run next year,” he said. “I think seat time is huge, and ev­ery­one in rac­ing can tell you that. Whether it be in a Late Model or what­ever you run, race craft is some­thing you learn every sin­gle race.

“Rac­ing Late Mod­els, I think it’ll be re­ally fun to go out there at South Bos­ton and race against guys like Philip Mor­ris and Lee Pul­liam (both four-time Whe­len All-Amer­i­can Series na­tional cham­pi­ons). It can re­ally teach you some­thing about how to get around places and how to make passes. I’m ex­cited to get out there to run with these guys.”

For Var­gas, the se­lec­tion to the De­vel­op­ment Team brings sta­bil­ity to a rac­ing ca­reer that has had its share of ups and downs, in­clud­ing work­ing on his Late Mod­els in his fam­ily’s garage.

“It means ev­ery­thing in the world to me,” said Var­gas, win­ner of the 2016 Wen­dell Scott Trail­blazer Award and run­ner-up for Josten’s Rookie of the Year hon­ors for Cal­i­for­nia in the NASCAR Whe­len All-Amer­i­can Series. “I’ve gone all through the ranks from Ban­doleros through street stocks and Late Mod­els.

“And now mov­ing up to the K&N Pro Series East has been an ab­so­lute dream of mine for the last two years. To have this op­por­tu­nity to show what I’ve got in one of the higher lev­els of rac­ing, with great team­mates and great equip­ment—it’s un­be­liev­able.”

And, of course, the as­pi­ra­tions don’t stop there. Now a decade old, NASCAR’s Drive for Di­ver­sity pro­gram will fea­ture three alumni rac­ing in the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Series next sea­son—Kyle Lar­son, Daniel Suarez and Dar­rell “Bubba” Wal­lace Jr.

“It’s so grat­i­fy­ing,” Siegel said. “And I can’t say enough about NASCAR’s com­mit­ment to the pro­gram, not only from a re­source stand­point, but their fo­cus and the pro­fes­sion­als that lend their ex­per­tise, mak­ing sure that, as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, we’re healthy and grow­ing—and the ath­letes are.

“This has re­ally been a joint ef­fort and a true col­lab­o­ra­tion and part­ner­ship. When I think back to 10 years ago, it re­ally makes me feel good about where we are to­day.”

GETTY IM­AGES FOR NASCAR

Brett Bo­dine and Ju­san Hamil­ton talk to the 2017 NASCAR Drive for Di­ver­sity Com­bine par­tic­i­pants at New Smyrna Speed­way on Oc­to­ber 17 in New Smyrna , Fla.

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