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African American-owned Force Indy to compete in USF2000 next season

Indy Black owned team

Chris Owens 2020

The Road to Indy ladder system will have an African American-owned USF2000 team with the announcement of Force Indy, which will be led by Black businessman and team owner Rod Reid.

For 30 years, the USF2000 Championship has provided one of the steps to the top rung of IndyCar. In 2021, there will be an increased emphasis on diversity in that program as Force Indy focuses on Black American men and women in all phases of the team from staffers, to mechanics, to drivers.

“I started a race team in 1984, and I have always had a desire to have a team of talented individuals who look like me in the professional ranks of the sport,” Reid said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the team’s car was unveiled. “I have been in and around the sport for 40 years, and this is just the culmination of years of hard work. I simply cannot wait to see this race team on the track this spring.”

To Reid, the initiative comes at the right time.

It is not only about building a winning race team in USF2000 but is focused on helping change the face of the sport during a period that has increased its attention to racial equality and diversity in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“In May, when so so much pain was in the country, I think all corporations that had any sensitivity to what is going on in our world,” Reid said. “American companies, and I say that very warmly, that American companies all of a sudden opened their eyes and said there is a lot of injustice. This didn’t start happening this year.

“I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Penske early on when he took over the [IndyCar and IMS] property and one of the things we talked about was this whole notion of a lot of African Americans not feeling welcome and he said, ‘Why is that?’

“Part of it is invitation. The whole notion that [African Americans] aren’t really here. And that’s the biggest difference on how it impacts. Now we have strong leadership in corporations, and especially here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, saying we want to make a difference. And not just because it’s the moment. We want to do something that is sustainable.”

Force Indy will receive mentorship from Team Penske, which has won 18 Indianapolis 500s and 16 IndyCar championships during its history. To take advantage of this help, the team will be based out of Concord, North Carolina (near Penske headquarters in Mooresville).

“When the IMS and IndyCar acquisition happened a year ago, I was pleased to learn of the work Rod Reid was doing,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman Roger Penske said in a release. “To lend our support to an effort like this is a natural. Together, we’ll work to not only to get this new team off the ground but continue to support it and its mission as it continues down a path to compete at the top level.”

MORE: Lewis Hamilton resolute on activism: ‘I won’t give up using this platform’

And while there have been many Black individuals in the garage throughout the sports history, Force Indy identifies a need to improve the sense of inclusion for Black Americans.

The team will compete with the No. 99, which is a tribute to Dewey Gatson who drove a roadster with that number in 1951. Although he was one of the winningest African American driver/mechanics in racing history, he never had an opportunity to race in the Indy 500.

"[Force Indy] is a pipeline, or a fuel line if you will, where we are going to push a lot of energy and a lot of opportunity for a variety of folks who have not gotten that opportunity thus far,” said Jimmie McMillian Chief Diversity Officer of Penske Entertainment. “If you look at the sport, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that despite the efforts of others, the sport still remains largely white.

“Some of the things we heard in the process of trying to evaluate those issues is a lack of applicants - a lack of people who apply for the positions or don’t have the training they need be a part of the team in some way.

“There is also a lack of education. Some of it is because people are not interested in coming to the race because they don’t see anyone who culturally looks like them, so this is going to be a great step to do that merger where the sport is reaching out to the community, but now you’ve given the community a reason to come to the racetrack and root for a team.”

Force Indy will make its debut March 5-7 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Sponsorship and a driver will be announced at a later date.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.