NASCAR diversity internship gives students a boost

Each Sunday, Speed Channel's "Speed Report" shows viewers slices of action from the motor-sports world: an elated driver celebrating a win, a motorcyclist popping a wheelie or a pit crew member giving an interview. Chances are, if it was a report from this summer, Ellicott City's Priyanka Vohra helped produce the highlight segment.

Vohra, one of three Maryland college students selected for NASCAR's Diversity Internship Program, is given a lot of responsibility as an intern.

"It's cool. I get to put together highlight clips for the show by myself," said Vohra, a junior broadcast journalism major at Syracuse University.

Nicole McAdoo of Elkridge, a senior marketing major at Ithaca (N.Y.) College, and Amber Crutchfield of Upper Marlboro, a senior marketing major at Bowie State, were also chosen for the program, which gives minority college students the opportunity to complete a 10-week paid summer internship program at NASCAR-related companies. Hundreds of college students apply for the internships each year, and only 15 to 30 are hired.

Marcus Jadotte, the managing director of public affairs who also oversees the diversity program, said it is an industrywide initiative.

"It is designed to expose bright young college students to a career in the sport and ultimately help NASCAR recruit the best and brightest college students into professional roles in the sports," he said.

The program, in its 11th year, features internships sponsored by NASCAR offices, sponsors, licensees, teams, tracks and broadcast partners. It provides positions in all areas of the NASCAR business, including marketing, engineering, public relations, licensing, diversity and public affairs.

Vohra, who works for Speed Channel, which is based in Charlotte, N.C., isn't necessarily interested in the marketing side of NASCAR but was able to find her niche thanks to the broad spectrum of positions available.

"It's exactly what I want to do in the future as far as producing goes," Vohra said. "It gives me a feel for the production side, and I get to see what life is like on TV. This is what I want to do."

Each year, the internships are available to college sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students across the country. To be eligible, students must be in good standing with their school and community, and have a grade-point average of at least 3.0.

"It's a very competitive internship and a very good one," Jadotte said. "Over half the participantscome back and are involved in the sport when college ends. We have a good return rate on the program."

Crutchfield works for The 909 Group, a sports and entertainment marketing firm based in Huntersville, N.C.

She spends her days researching ways to promote NASCAR TV shows. She also plans release parties and helps sell NASCAR products, whether it be a TV show or music album.

Crutchfield said she is working on "Changing Lanes," a documentary scheduled to premiere on BET in the fall that focuses on diversity in NASCAR, specifically on why NASCAR seems not to resonate with women and minorities. Crutchfield's job is to help sell the show to viewers.

McAdoo is working with the marketing department of the Daytona Beach, Fla.-based International Speedway Corp. She conducts research on the NASCAR brand and the sport. McAdoo looks at the demographics of people who come out to the track so that the company has a more specific group to market the sport toward.

"It's very fan-driven, which is awesome," McAdoo said. "I think that's what is great about working with the sport. They really know who they are marketing to."

Vohra, who hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism, said that while she has been in the program only a few weeks, it has already been beneficial.

"It's awesome," Vohra said. "I definitely want to go into broadcast journalism. It's definitely the perfect thing for me. People are watching [Speed Channel] all over the country, so that's pretty cool. It's a whole new level and definitely the right direction for me."

The program has also exposed these women to a sport they might not have considered in the past, and they all seemed to agree that the knowledge of something new is always helpful in a competitive job market.

"I wasn't particularly a NASCAR fan," Vohra said. "I knew the basics of it, but wasn't a die-hard fan. I am learning about something I didn't know that much about before … and by end of the summer I think I'll be a pro."

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