On Tuesday IMSA announced a new initiative to help develop a more diverse grid of drivers from a variety of backgrounds. As part of the “IMSA Diverse Driver Development” program, an annual scholarship of around a quarter million dollars will help provide talented but underserved new drivers a leg up into the top-tier of North American sports car racing.
Drivers who would like to be considered for the scholarship need to prove themselves as valuable participants in the sport first and foremost. Obviously these drivers will need to have a strong desire to compete in IMSA, as it doesn’t make sense for the series to promote drivers who don’t want to be there. Drivers will need to have “outstanding” previous results and on-track talent in junior categories. They will also need to prove that they can develop a business plan to make themselves an added value for prospective teams to compete in a full season of IMSA racing. And being that this is a diversity-based scholarship, IMSA states that participants be “from diverse lifestyles or backgrounds”.
Throughout the course of the press release, IMSA does not mention even one time what it considers to be a “diverse lifestyle or background,” but thankfully the application process identifies who is eligible.
- Be a female or member of one or more of the following ethnic minority classifications: American Indian, Alaskan Native or of native/indigenous descent; Asian or Pacific Islander; Black or African-American; Latino or Hispanic; and/or any other minority classification.
- Driver must be legal residents of the 50 United States or D.C. over the age of 17 at the date of the application;
- Driver must have some formal racing experience, having held a competition license issued by a recognized racing organization;
- Drivers must not be an employee, contractor, director, or officer, or a family member or household member of any such persons, of any of IMSA or the Sponsors, or their respective parent, subsidiary and affiliated companies.
- If selected as a finalist, driver must have a commitment from a team competing in the applicable Series during the 2022 season in which driver is applying for the Scholarship. Team must submit an application upon finalist notice as described in the Application Process below.
“While there are examples of male and female drivers from diverse backgrounds that have won IMSA races and competed for championships over the years, we must strive for much more diversity and inclusion in our sport,” said IMSA President John Doonan. “The IMSA Diverse Driver Development Scholarship will facilitate the introduction and growth of new drivers who may currently believe that IMSA is out of their reach.
“This multi-dimensional scholarship will assist financially and also work with drivers to provide a strong foundation for success both on and off the racetrack. Our goal is to create more opportunities to compete and achieve sustainable success in IMSA.”
Every year a new driver will be selected for the scholarship to receive “substantial assistance from the sanctioning body and several IMSA corporate partners.” So what does that include? The biggest financial support comes in the waiving of IMSA’s driver entry fees into any of its top three series; WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Michelin Pilot Challenge, or IMSA Prototype Challenge. That alone is worth anywhere from $110,000 to $235,000.
Beyond that, the driver will receive one free set of tires per event, two 55 gallon drums of VP Racing Fuel per event, a custom OMP racing suit, a fitted Recaro racing seat, and a set of free headshots from LAT Photo. Not only does the extra fuel and tire stipend mean that driver will be absolved of most of the cost for extra on-track time per weekend to develop their talents, but it also makes them much more financially viable to whichever team they can get a ride with.
For the second year, once that driver has proven themselves valuable to the IMSA grid, they will receive additional benefits, including a 50 percent discount on their full-season premium entry fee in the top three categories, and Michelin will continue to provide a free set of tires per race.
If you’re interested in applying yourself, check out imsa.com/diversity. This is a potentially huge step forward for the diversity of the sport that so many of us love. Motorsport doesn’t need to be solely conducted primarily by white men, so let’s break that cycle and encourage women and non-white drivers to join the grid. There is nothing about racing that could be called a meritocracy, so let’s help some talented women and minority racers get the head start that many racers already get from their rich parents.