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23XI Racing’s continuing ‘journey’ to diversity

From business and competition staffing to engaging with sponsors, the NASCAR team is intentional about extending its reach

By Adam Stern
23XI driver Bubba Wallace gathers with his crew at Phoenix Raceway last year.getty images

When Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin founded the 23XI Racing NASCAR team in late 2020, they signaled their intent to diversify the sport. Let the record show that they are following through on that mission.

Formed on the heels of America’s social justice movement — one in which 23XI Racing driver Bubba Wallace was closely involved — one of the team’s foremost goals was to develop a more diverse sport overall from its fan base to its workforce. While NASCAR has been working to change this narrative more than ever in recent years and has been making progress, stock car racing was long viewed as a traditionally conservative sport that has had diversity issues and a predominantly white fan base.

Now, just a month into its second season, 23XI has hired a host of new staff from outside the industry, including many who are Black or Latino, among other underrepresented groups. Some of the new hires had never worked in NASCAR or motorsports, underscoring how the team is looking to bring in different perspectives so that it can benefit from a diversity of thought. The team also has set up the 23XI Speed Institute that encompasses initiatives it’s doing with sponsors around diversity, equity and inclusion, including scholarships, paid internships, job opportunities and executive training.

23XI doesn’t have a set quota that it’s following in terms of diverse hires, according to team President Steve Lauletta, the respected longtime NASCAR executive whom Jordan and Hamlin chose to run their team after he had stepped away from the sport. “It’s a journey — not a destination,” Lauletta said, describing the team’s DEI efforts. “Starting with our ownership, partners and everyone on the team, it’s something that we want to make and have made part of our mission and values.

Hauler driver Jamason Provost likes the team atmosphere.Courtesy of 23XI Racing

“We want to do that not only to make the workforce diverse and inclusive, but with our fans, we want to have a brand that can appeal to everybody,” he continued. “It’s been great so far, but we’ve got to continue to focus on it.”

STAFFING UP

Various positions on both the business and competition side at 23XI Racing have been filled by diverse employees. However, Lauletta notes that it’s been easier to populate the business side with diverse employees because the team can hire people with relevant skills from all sorts of industries.

Kreig Robinson, the director of partnership management, works with 23XI’s sponsors including Jordan Brand, DoorDash, Monster Energy, McDonald’s, Columbia Sportswear, Dr Pepper and MoneyLion. His previous experience had been with Michael Jordan Motorsports (AMA Superbike and MotoGP) and Red Bull. Social media manager George Tillerson has previous digital and social media marketing experience with Jeld-Wen, Lowe’s and FleishmanHillard, among other companies. Human resources manager Nikita Smith joined 23XI from the Charlotte Hornets. 

Jamason Provost, a hauler driver for 23XI, spent eight years in the U.S. Army. He said one of the things he enjoys about 23XI is it has a team atmosphere much like the military did.

“The brotherhood I get here is absolutely amazing,” he said.

The competition side requires unique skills to be, for example, a NASCAR crew chief who directs a dozen people on how to build and maintain fast stock cars. 23XI race engineer Julian Pena was hired after previous experience with Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing.

Jamie Ruiz brings an entertainment background to 23XI. Courtesy of 23XI Racing

Because the competition side has more catching up to do, the team is putting extra emphasis on filling entry-level competition positions and its intern positions with diverse hires so that they can begin working their way up to more senior positions within the sport or 23XI, specifically. 

RELOCATING TO SUCCESS

Jamie Ruiz, 23XI’s new director of marketing, came to the Charlotte-based team after a career spent on the West Coast with entertainment giants such as Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures. Ruiz said she and her husband were already looking to relocate to the Charlotte area, and as she was researching potential jobs, she learned about 23XI and its efforts to change NASCAR, “and that was really interesting to me.”

The first NASCAR race she attended was earlier this year when the sport traveled to the L.A. Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash exhibition event, which was widely viewed in the industry as having one of the more ethnically diverse crowds in recent memory. NASCAR is starting to race in more urban venues so that it can bring the sport to new fans.

Both Lauletta and Ruiz said it’s already apparent that bringing in new types of voices is helping the team do things differently than most other NASCAR teams, when it comes to areas like social media and marketing. 

The team also has partnered with Dr Pepper on a scholarship program that gives away $5,000 each to 23 students, an example of the work that 23XI is doing with its sponsors.

Ruiz said what has been refreshing to her is that 23XI is taking actions in the DEI space instead of merely talking about it.

“What we want to do and represent as a team are not just talking points — it’s something we actually take very seriously,” she said. “Creating that environment where it’s not something we just talk about but there’s things actually being done to make sure the business and fan base represent what we want it to look like and the fabric of society — you’re really seeing that progression happening.” 

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