African American-owned Force Indy to compete in USF2000 next season

Indy Black owned team

The Road to Indy ladder system will have an African American-owned USF2000 team with the announcement of Force Indy, which will be led by Black businessman and team owner Rod Reid.

For 30 years, the USF2000 Championship has provided one of the steps to the top rung of IndyCar. In 2021, there will be an increased emphasis on diversity in that program as Force Indy focuses on Black American men and women in all phases of the team from staffers, to mechanics, to drivers.

“I started a race team in 1984, and I have always had a desire to have a team of talented individuals who look like me in the professional ranks of the sport,” Reid said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the team’s car was unveiled. “I have been in and around the sport for 40 years, and this is just the culmination of years of hard work. I simply cannot wait to see this race team on the track this spring.”

To Reid, the initiative comes at the right time.

It is not only about building a winning race team in USF2000 but is focused on helping change the face of the sport during a period that has increased its attention to racial equality and diversity in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“In May, when so so much pain was in the country, I think all corporations that had any sensitivity to what is going on in our world,” Reid said. “American companies, and I say that very warmly, that American companies all of a sudden opened their eyes and said there is a lot of injustice. This didn’t start happening this year.

“I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Penske early on when he took over the [IndyCar and IMS] property and one of the things we talked about was this whole notion of a lot of African Americans not feeling welcome and he said, ‘Why is that?’

“Part of it is invitation. The whole notion that [African Americans] aren’t really here. And that’s the biggest difference on how it impacts. Now we have strong leadership in corporations, and especially here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, saying we want to make a difference. And not just because it’s the moment. We want to do something that is sustainable.”

Force Indy will receive mentorship from Team Penske, which has won 18 Indianapolis 500s and 16 IndyCar championships during its history. To take advantage of this help, the team will be based out of Concord, North Carolina (near Penske headquarters in Mooresville).

“When the IMS and IndyCar acquisition happened a year ago, I was pleased to learn of the work Rod Reid was doing,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman Roger Penske said in a release. “To lend our support to an effort like this is a natural. Together, we’ll work to not only to get this new team off the ground but continue to support it and its mission as it continues down a path to compete at the top level.”

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And while there have been many Black individuals in the garage throughout the sports history, Force Indy identifies a need to improve the sense of inclusion for Black Americans.

The team will compete with the No. 99, which is a tribute to Dewey Gatson who drove a roadster with that number in 1951. Although he was one of the winningest African American driver/mechanics in racing history, he never had an opportunity to race in the Indy 500.

“[Force Indy] is a pipeline, or a fuel line if you will, where we are going to push a lot of energy and a lot of opportunity for a variety of folks who have not gotten that opportunity thus far,” said Jimmie McMillian Chief Diversity Officer of Penske Entertainment. “If you look at the sport, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that despite the efforts of others, the sport still remains largely white.

“Some of the things we heard in the process of trying to evaluate those issues is a lack of applicants – a lack of people who apply for the positions or don’t have the training they need be a part of the team in some way.

“There is also a lack of education. Some of it is because people are not interested in coming to the race because they don’t see anyone who culturally looks like them, so this is going to be a great step to do that merger where the sport is reaching out to the community, but now you’ve given the community a reason to come to the racetrack and root for a team.”

Force Indy will make its debut March 5-7 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Sponsorship and a driver will be announced at a later date.

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Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.