While over 30 drivers from all different forms of racing competed this month in the Drive for Diversity Combine, only 10 drivers made the final cut for the 2010 Class. Headlining the group is Paul Harraka, the Rookie of the Year in the Camping World West Series in 2009, and a newcomer Jessica Brunelli, from Hayward, CA.
Harraka, the first Drive for Diversity participant to win a race, emerged as the front runner for the 2010 class after two days of intensive try outs. A native New Jerseyan of Syrian descent, Harraka won two races in the Camping World West Series under the auspices of Bill McAnally Racing.
"I've certainly tried to do whatever I can to help out the younger drivers," Harraka said. "I was in their shoes just a few years ago."
Joining Harraka as finalists are four other drivers who participated in this year's Drive for Diversity Program. They are as follows:
*Mackena Bell, who ran the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model and finished eighth in the points standings.
*Michael Cherry, who ran the Late Model Division at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and had 19 top-10 finishes.
*Katie Hagar, who ran the Whelen All-American Series and set a track qualifying record at 99 Speedway in Stockton, CA.
*Juan Pitta, who had 12 top-five finishes in the Late Model Division at All-American Speedway.
The other five finalists chosen from the Drive for Diversity Combine are newcomers to the program. They are as follows:
*Jessica Brunelli of Hayward, CA
*Ryan Gifford of Winchester, TN
*Rebecca Kasten of Mequon, WI
*Sergio Pena of Catharpin, VI
*Darrell Wallace, Jr. of Mobile, AL
One of these "newbies", Jessica Brunelli began racing was she was 10 years old. Now that she turned "sweet 16," she decided to try out for the Drive for Diversity combine in earnest.
"I am the third generation of family involved in racing," Brunelli said. "My grandfather crewed on drag cars and my dad raced for three years when I was younger."
"I remember the race car being on a trailer in the back yard so I could play in it."
Brunelli's short-term goal was to make the 2010 Drive for Diversity cut, which she has accomplished. Her long-term goal is to be in the Cup Series in the next few years.
When asked about her racing idols, Brunelli replied, "Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was my favorite driver," But I"m very inspired by Tony Stewart in the fact that he can drive anything."
Brunelli, Harraka and the rest of the finalists will be the first members of the newly revamped Drive for Diversity program. The 2010 program will be under the auspices of the 909 Group, a sports marketing agency run by Max Siegel, formerly of Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Siegel has created his own team, Revolution Racing, that will field all 10 drivers in the Drive for Diversity program in the upcoming year. Four of the drivers will compete in the Camping World Series East and six drivers will compete in the Whelen All-American Series.
The Camping World Series East drivers will be mentored by Andy Santerre, four-time champion of the Series. Santerre is known for his talent in nurturing new drivers to the top levels of the sport.
The drivers who were chosen for the 2010 inaugural class under this new format had to compete on and off the track at the combine. They were evaluated for their media skills, sponsor skills, and driving skills on the track at the Motor Mile Speedway.
They were also filmed during the tryout process. Their stories will be featured in a television series called "Changing Lanes", an eight-part series which will air in early 2010 on BET.
"We are confident that these drivers will raise the bar in terms of talent and competition," Siegel said of his finalists.