For a majority of its 74-year existence the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was not known to be very inclusive. But over the last decade it has been working on its diversity issues. There are still, however, just four Black NASCAR team owners.
One of them is John Cohen, owner of the NY Racing Team.
The team recently snagged a sponsorship from Stillman College. Stillman sponsored Cohen’s #44 race car for the Honor Quick Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 20, marking the school’s first time as a sponsor in a NASCAR event.
Cohen partnered with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to sponsor his car, which Greg Biffle drove.
“Stillman College is excited that NASCAR is partnering with HBCUs to support diversity efforts in their racing cup series,” said Dr. Cynthia Warrick, president of Stillman College, in a statement. “Having a Stillman-branded car in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 signals a major effort for NASCAR, and we are honored to be a part of this initiative. Plus, our car looks really cool.”
Cohen told Rolling Out he wants to inspire young Blacks to enter the world of NASCAR. “For me, I feel like there are a lot of kids that want to get into racing and don’t have a lane for it. So, I’m trying to build that lane for that. For the future, for the kids to be able to make it easy for them,” he said.
“When I got in the sport, I started out by myself….everybody thought I was crazy…especially me being from the inner city, Cohen told The Breakfast Club morning radio show recently. At the time, there was only one other Black owner, former NBA player Brad Daugherty. Daugherty is co-owner of NASCAR Cup Series team JTG Daugherty Racing. According to Cohen, Daugherty was helpful to him when he first entered the world of NASCAR.
But it is an expensive world to be in.
The annual cost to be in every race ranges between $16 and $30 million.
“We get paid for racing, for TV rights, and though sponsorships,” explained Cohen. But, he added, since his team has yet to win a big race, it’s a challenge to get sponsorships.
Serial entrepreneur Cohen made his money in nightclubs and taverns, before forming his race team, Xxxtreme Motorsport in the spring of 2009. Cohen is a also marketing partner of HBCU information platform Urban Edge Network, Inc. and HBCU League Pass Plus, a digital streaming platform for HBCU sports and student life events.
Cohen and his company, Team Xtreme Racing, were in the news in 2015, when their $250,000 car was stolen in Hampton, Georgia, following the Daytona 500.
With this drama behind him, he is focused on making NASCAR more diverse. Cohen said there were times early on when security would stop him, not believing he was a team owner. “NACSAR has been working to become more inclusive. I want to bring in more engineers are crew chiefs of color,” he said. “So I work with the Urban Racing School of Philadelphia. It’s a stem program and I’m trying to build getting kids from there into NASCAR.”
His main goal right now is to create a successful NASCAR team. “For me, I want to be like the other teams. The bigger teams that have been around for 40 years, I want to end up like them, per se,” he said.