As an HBCU nestled in the state North Carolina, Winston-Salem State University is surrounded by car racing enthusiasts. Now, the school is teaching their students the skills of the industry after becoming the first public university or HBCU with a motorsports management program.
Originally created in 2007, the WSSU Motorsports Management program allows students to earn a bachelors of science degree in motorsports management, and experience on the track as well. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the program runs out of Bowman Gray Stadium, where racing events have been held consistently for over 70 years. There are 10 students in the program now, and students can take classes like “Finance and Economics of Sport” and “Facility Design and Crowd Management.”
“We are strictly the business side — operations, sponsorship, hospitality, general management, and marketing — in the motorsport industry,” said Clay Harshaw, Ph.D., who has run the program at WSSU since 2012.
The program gives any interested students the opportunity to live out their motorsports dreams.
“We’ve got a diverse group of students,” he says. “It’s men, women, anybody that’s interested in it. At one point, I kind of laughed and I said, ‘We’ve got the most diverse program of any university program,’” said Harshaw.
Derrick Rice experienced the program first-hand working with Harshaw in the WSSU motorsports program before graduating in 2017. He also raced at Bowman Gray, and in 2016 won the Street Stock Division title. He’s now a sports marketing teacher at Mount Tabor High School, and looks toward a more diverse future for motorsports.
“Here in the last year it has become more diverse. A lot of people of different ethnicities other than white are starting to pay attention,” says Rice. “I feel like it’s going to become more of a kind of gem toward the institution because it’s a gateway for kids to get in there and to understand, A) what the product is, which will be the car and the racing, and then, B) how to run it, how to utilize your resources, have the right business model, and things like that.”
NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program is currently working with WSSU in an initiative that supports minorities and women at higher levels of motorsports. Then there’s William Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., the only Black driver in NASCAR, who will have a particularly important impact on the perception of a diverse motorsports world.
“I’m hoping there could be some positive effects for us,” Harshaw says. “I’m hoping that we can connect our students with their team for field experiences and internships.”
The motorsports program also values outreach. For example, the Diversity in Motion Initiative camp is held at the Ken Carlson Boys & Girls Club to give the young kids an introduction to the motorsports industry. With the expansion of the program and the popularity of motorsports, there will be more resources for students and the WSSU community at large.