NEWTON, Iowa — Over the past few years, national attention has been brought to the lack of diversity in motorsports.
But for the principal of Force Indy, Rod Reid, it's something he's dealt with his entire career.
Now, he and his team are leading the way to try and change that for the next generation of minority drivers. Force Indy is a majority African American race team that was created specifically to develop a talented, diverse group of people — from its crew members all the way to its driver, Ernie Francis Jr.
In order to spread its message of diversity as far as possible, Force Indy focuses on one main goal: to take home the prize.
"I will say, always, winning is the most important thing for Indy, and we're working really hard to do that," Reid said.
Winning is important not only for the team's success but also for what they're trying to accomplish off the track.
"If we represent those individuals on our team and in our sport well, then I think it would bode well for others who may not have thought of this as a career opportunity," Reid said.
For Reid, it's about setting an example for minority kids who dream as big as he did.
"A mission of ours is to have and become a pipeline for those kids of color and even young ladies, if that's possible, to have them come into the sport, and have a place," Reid said.
He didn't have that access as a kid, and trying to make his own place in the motorsports world was a difficult task. It almost made him give up altogether.
"We were discouraged. As a matter of fact, I tell folks a lot that about the mid-'90s and into 2000, the frustration and the challenges to make it in the sport actually caused us — myself — to stay away from it for a few years," Reid said.
Eventually, he decided to take that frustration and turn it into purpose.
"I was inspired to do my NXG youth motorsports where I thought 'If I could get young people, especially those African American or Latino, to get into the sport in some way, then maybe we can make a change,'" Reid said.
The program uses motorsports as a way to expose minority kids to racing while also applying STEM education principles and helping them develop life skills.
It's something Francis wished was around when he was a kid. As Force Indy's driver, he is able to represent a lot more than just himself on the track — the tail of his car is red to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 99 he wears pays respect to Dewey Gatson, an African American driver back in the 1900s.
"It's really awesome that we get to be that example for these kids. We've had kids come out to a bunch of the events we've done so far this year so it's been really cool to meet them and for them to come out to the track and they see us," Francis said.
Now that he's the face of Force Indy, he gets to be a part of the change he always wanted to see growing up.
"They see Rod and me and they see that, you know, we look just like them and we're out here doing it and racing at the highest level. And it really gives them hope that they can achieve whatever dreams they want to do, whether it's racing or anything else they want to do in their lives," Francis said.
While Force Indy may run into some roadblocks along the way, the team said it won't stop them advocating for motorsports to become a more diverse and inclusive landscape.
Force Indy will be racing in July's Indy Lights at Iowa Speedway as part of Hy-Vee INDYCAR race weekend.