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Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Class set for NASCAR's Drive for Diversity

By Bill Speros
Special to ESPN.com



About 39 minutes into Tuesday’s announcement of NASCAR’s 2013 Drive for Diversity class, 20-year-old driver Daniel Suarez of Monterrey, Mexico, was answering a question in Spanish submitted via Twitter (using the bilingual hashtag #D4D2013) while participating in a Google+ Hangout that was being streamed live on both Facebook and YouTube.

Welcome to the new NASCAR.

The seven members of this year’s D4D class will be driving for Rev Racing at various competitive levels. Two of these potential, would-be Sprint Cup champions are still in high school and they all range in age from 17-23. Three drivers are returning to compete for Rev Racing in 2013. Bryan Ortiz, 23, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Ryan Gifford, 23, of Winchester, Tenn., and MacKena Bell, 22, of Kansas City, Mo., all will be driving in the NASCAR K&N Series.

They will be joined in the K&N Series by Suarez. He is one of the four D4D rookies who participated in the NASCAR Drive For Diversity Combine in October. Suarez is coming off a third-place finish in Mexico’s NASCAR Toyota Series. Fellow rookies Annabeth Barnes, 17, from Hiddenite, N.C., and Jack Madrid, 18, from San Clemente, Calif., will pilot the Late Models for Rev Racing in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. While Devon Amos, 21, from Rio Rancho, N.M., will compete in the team’s INEX Legends Series program.

Very cool experience on Google #hangout with our #2013D4D class.Great group of people with loads of talent #NASCAR twitter.com/odsteve/status…

— Steve O'Donnell (@odsteve) January 15, 2013


“We want to represent the world, and particularly all of North America, and when you look at this group of drivers, they certainly do that,” NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “They bring a younger fan base to NASCAR. They bring what we're looking for in terms of people who are relevant to a younger fan base.”

The three-day combine at Langley (Va.) Speedway last October featured 17 drivers (chosen from 60 applicants). They were evaluated on physical stamina, driving ability, car knowledge, interpersonal skills and marketing and media aptitude. Program graduate Kyle Larson won NASCAR D4D’s first title in the K&N Pro Series East in 2012, as well as the series’ Sunoco Rookie of Year Award.

The D4D program offers young minority and female drivers the resources, experience and opportunity they need to develop their racing skills with the eventual goal of becoming competitive in the Sprint Cup Series.

“Five years ago if you looked at this program and you had a Google+ Hangout, you would have hoped that one or two of these drivers would have been competitive at the K&N level,” O’Donnell said. “Now you can look at this group of drivers and say one of these drivers could and should be the potential Cup champion in our future.”

Today was a big day for me and my new teammates, we have all been so blessed with this amazing opportunity. #D4D2013 #blessed @revracin

— AnnabethBarnes (@Annabethh) January 16, 2013


Barnes started racing go-karts at age 7 and at age 11 was featured in the movie "Racing Dreams," produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In the movie, Barnes says her dream is to become the “first female driver to win the Daytona 500.”

During Tuesday’s Google+ Hangout, Playbook asked each of the seven drivers to briefly describe their “Racing Dream.” Barnes (@Annabethh) was a bit more tempered: “Make it to NASCAR and race at the Cup level. For me, that's the ultimate dream.”

Here’s what the other drivers had to say:

Suarez (@dnlsuarez): “The dream of all the drivers is to be one driver in the national series, in the Nationwide, Trucks or Sprint Cup. One big step for me in this year, 2013, is getting in this awesome program. It helps drivers like me and Bryan and drivers from other countries."

Bell (@MaCkeNaBELL): “The top three series is definitely a dream of mine. But more importantly just being able to accomplish something. A girl from a small town, and just that you can prove to females out there that we belong in a man's sport and that I can pave a road for some young girl to be able to achieve their dreams. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity and hopefully one day I can change a life for some little girl."

Madrid (@JackMadridRacin): “My personal goal would be just to make a living out of racing, just do something that I love for the rest of my life. That's my ultimate goal. That was a really big step in my career. [Madrid signed his Rev Racing contract on Dec. 21, his 18th birthday, and started his Twitter page on Tuesday.]”

Amos (@DevonAmos): “To race at the highest level of NASCAR and race against the best drivers in the world. I think NASCAR has the best drivers in the world, so that's my goal.”

Gifford (@RyanGifford2): “To show what [you’re] capable of and that you can go out and make new lives for people and open doors for people that normally couldn't get to do it. I'm definitely trying to do [that] and get to the Cup level and be a good example for kids someday."

Ortiz (@BryanORacing): “Without this program, I would be at my house continuing my studies, that I'm still doing, but not pursuing my dream of being a professional race car driver. In this case I want to make it to the Cup level.”

While several drivers will compete in the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 18-19, the full team will begin its season in March.

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Bill Speros is an ESPN.com contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @billsperos or via e-mail at bsperos1@gmail.com.