NASCAR D4D Combine Wraps Up

Laura Hayes had a perfect view of the Drive for Diversity in action. Driving at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., this past season, Hayes ran a Late Model against program participants Kristin Bumbera, Paul Harraka and Katie Hagar.

Running for her family team – with her father and uncle serving as crew – and with a car leased from Golden State Racing, she more than held her own. She had 12 top fives and a win.

“The whole goal through the year was to beat them,” said the 18-year-old Hayes, from Wilton, Calif. “It was fun running against them and proving I am worthy to be part of this.”

Hayes is getting her chance to follow further in their footsteps. She was at South Boston Speedway Tuesday afternoon as one of 25 drivers participating in the Drive for Diversity Combine presented by Sunoco. The two-day event, sponsored by NASCAR, is designed to bring together the top minority and female drivers in the sport in a showcase in front of NASCAR car owners.

Tuesday, the final 12 drivers of the group participated in the on-track portion of the event. The rest took part in the off-track media training and evaluations.

They are competing for 14 spots – 10 rides in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and four in the NASCAR Camping World Series. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is the grassroots, short-track level that serves as the foundation of NASCAR, while the latter is NASCAR’s top developmental step for drivers looking to progress on to one of the three national series.

While the competition is foremost in the drivers’ minds, making the cut just to get to participate in the combine is a significant accomplishment.

“This is the biggest opportunity I’ve had in my career,” Hayes said. “This is going to be a big springboard.”

Like Hayes, Phil Dugan is making his first trip to the combine. The 21-year-old Dugan, from Meridian, Idaho, races Late Models in his home state.

“It’s a dream come true,” Dugan said. “This place is amazing. To have owners come down and say ‘hey, I want to talk to you.’ It’s a life changer.”

The number of rides available increased this year from nine to 14 as the talent pool the drivers are selected from across North America gets deeper. In addition to the scheduled combine activities, the drivers took advantage to interact with their peers that share the same goals and aspirations.

“I wouldn’t regret anything I got from here whether I get a ride or not,” Dugan said. “There’s so much competition here. You hear the hype that there’s not much competition in this program. That’s hogwash.”

Other drivers to compete in the on-track session Tuesday were:

• Cassie Gannis (Phoenix, Ariz.), Jonathon Gomez (Twin Falls, Idaho), Katie Hagar (Nobleboro, Maine), Rebecca Kasten (Mequon, Wis.), Ashlee Lancaster (Columbia, Mo.), Ruben Pardo (Mexico City, Mexico), Juan Pitta (Galt, Calif.), Jason Romero (Cameron Park, Calif.), Caitlin Shaw (Albuquerque, N.M.), and Jessica Wood (Newport News, Va.).

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