NEW ORLEANS----The Africa Channel recently announced that it would enter a stock car in NASCAR's 2013 racing series, and Randy Fenley, a partner in the endeavor, said the announcement signals that the cable television channel is launching a driver-and racing crew-development training program for African Americans to enter the popular sport.
The Africa Channel also is entering stock-car racing to create more brand awareness for its business, which made its debut in September 2005 by providing television programming about Africa and the Africa Diaspora. The channel broadcasts programs that include news, business, travel, sports and movies to 15 to 20 million people based on 8 million homes in the United States and Caribbean.
"This is a unique opportunity for an African-American-owned media entity to have a presence in one of America's most popular and dynamic sports," said Eldrick Williams, president and CEO of The Africa Channel. "The race car will offer a unique marketing platform, as well as provide opportunities to develop compelling TV content."
According to the NASCAR, which is based in Daytona Beach, Fla., stock car racing is the fastest-growing sport among African-Americans and Hispanics. Since 1995, the percentage of black fans increased 18 percent to 2 million. And African Americans comprise nearly 10 percent of NASCAR's fan base. Some of NASCAR's 10 largest markets, include Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., where The Africa Channel broadcasts.
"Large urban markets have a significant number of households tuning in each week to each NASCAR Events," NASCAR said. Dawn Harris, director NASCAR Diversity Affairs, did not return a call for comment.
Steve Tullman, co-owner of Tullman/Fenley Motorsports, and a leader in the biotech industry, also sees the NASCAR initiative as a platform to raise awareness about serious health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which are chronic among African Americans.Tullman is CEO of Ceptaris Therapeutics, Inc., a privately held specialty pharmaceutical company based in Malvern, Pa.
The Africa Channel announced during last week's National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans that it had signed a five-year, joint sponsorship commitment with Mooresville, N.C.-based Tullman/Fenley Motorsports through 2017.
Channel officials parked a red and black Dodge Charger with the orange and black Africa Channel logo on its hood next to the cable channel's booth during the convention. Fenley, co-owner and chief operating officer of Tullman/Fenley Motorsports, said, however, that his company might not use the Dodge Charger.
"We are talking to other [automobile] manufacturers," he said.
Although the Africa Channel and Fenley may select another car, they have decided that their first driver will be 20-year-old Dystany Spurlock, a native of Richmond, Va. Spurlock, wearing a black-and-red racing suit and a baseball cap with The Africa Channel logo, stood next to the car greeting visitors and answering questions.
Spurlock is an internationally known motorcycle drag racer. She became interested in the sport while attending races with her godfather Shawn Freedman. She has raced BMW motorcycles, a company she represents, on tracks in Virginia and Maryland.
Spurlock makes it clear she has a need for speed.
"I really like to go fast," said the slender Spurlock with a bright smile. Spurlock holds several motorcycle speed records and in May, she joined Alter/Bivins Land Speed Racing. The team's goal is to have her set a motorcycle speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats during the 2012 BUB Speed Trials.
Motorcycle racing whetted her appetite for stock-car racing. Spurlock will participate in mentor and training programs to give her seat time in the stock car, Fenley said.
Depending on how quickly Spurlock progresses, in 2013, she will drive in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the ARCA Racing Series which is a professional, but minor stock-car racing series, compared with NASCAR, an acronym for National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. Fenley's goal is to qualify Spurlock for NASCAR and ARCA so she can enter the full nationwide racing series by February 2014.
"This relationship is the catalyst for dramatic progress in the efforts to bring true diversity to the incredible sport of NASCAR. The partnership brings exposure to potential fans not normally engaged in NASCAR, while at the same time providing opportunities for very talented drivers who have yet been able to showcase their talents," Fenley said.