A key component to breaking into competitive industries is uncovering their sometimes not-so-obvious entry points. Having a mentor can help to break down those barriers, but accessing a high-quality mentor in your preferred profession can prove to be a challenge itself. In hopes of inspiring and informing, EBONY, in partnership with the Humanity Network, presents Legacy Leaders—a ten-part digital series through which industry leaders share the stories behind their career paths and raise entry point awareness in their respective fields.

In the inaugural installment, NASCAR Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion, Brandon M. Thompson, sat down with host Rodney Perry to illuminate NASCAR's diversity initiatives and demystify company entry points.

Brandon's journey with NASCAR dates back to 2003 in an unlikely location—the desk of his college advisor at his alma mater, Clark Atlanta University. The Nashville native had the privilege of being the advisee of a counselor who emphasized the importance of interning and building a professional network. One day, while admittedly plundering through his advisor's desk, he discovered an opportunity that checked all of his boxes.

"I saw that there was an internship opportunity in Nashville, which is where I am from," Brandon admits. "That was really my only criteria: wanting to go home for the summer. I later found out that the internship was with NASCAR. It's kind of gone from there," he went on.

By 2005, Thompson was hired by NASCAR as a Senior Account Executive. Since then, he has served in a variety of roles for the motorsport organization. Nearly 17 years to the day of the start of his internship, he transitioned into his current position as VP of Diversity and Inclusion.

"For me, it was the passion of the sport," Brandon says of what attracted him to NASCAR. "From the drivers, to the owners, to the people who work in the sport, and the fans, obviously. However, it was the opportunity as well. I saw that there was an opportunity for brown people to be able to take it to the next level and enjoy the sport. It was an intersection of those two things that hooked me."

Ironically, part of his current role is to help other people of color to recognize the opportunities that NASCAR has available in addition to cultivating an environment that makes them feel comfortable and welcomed within the company culture.

"Broadly, I would say that it's our team's job to evolve the culture of the sport," he explains. "It's through our employee bases, making sure that we feel welcome and included. Ensuring that we have as diverse and as equitable of a workforce as we can. Throughout the industry, making sure that the culture at the racetrack, on the teams, etc. is one that aligns with our mission, strategies, and core values."

NASCAR's diversity and inclusion efforts date back to 2000 – nearly three years before Thompson began his internship. "Nascar has always operated with a moral conscience. This is on-brand as the brand has evolved and as society has evolved," he explains. "We and I are well aware that NASCAR hasn't been the most welcoming place for people other than white men. That's a fact, but I will say that before other professional sports leagues were even talking about this, NASCAR recognized this. We had a diversity initiative that started as early as 2000. We doubled down on that in 2004, which is now known as the Drive for Diversity program, which produced drivers like Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez. We've been investing in this place for some time because of those accurate conceptions, in some cases."

"If it were not for the foundation that was laid back in 2000, we would not be able to take the steps that we did in 2020," he adds. Some of the other pivotal DE&I work NASCAR has done include initiatives in the esports space with HCBUs, the Women's Sports Foundation, The Trevor Project, and Latino civil rights group, UnidosUS.

Through his work, Thompson wants minority communities to "experience all that NASCAR has to offer – whether that's on-track, like being a driver or a crew chief, or owning a team, a mechanic, a pit crew member," he explains, before adding that he also wants Black people to "hear more about the career pipelines that we have for folks to become involved in the sport as well as in some of the front office roles."

Since stepping into his role as Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion, Brandon has helped to assemble employee resource groups in addition to and forming alliances with external groups for Black, Hispanic, Latinx, Asian American, Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ communities.

For those interested in learning more about NASCAR—whether in the fan or professional capacity, Thompson recommends a few things, including checking out Nascar Heat 5 and the company's mobile game, tuning in to broadcasts, attending races, and following NASCAR's social media accounts. Additionally, career seekers can visit the NASCAR website to learn more about the Diversity Internship Program, the Drive for Diversity Program, and Supplier Diversity Program. The NASCAR careers page can also provide insight into available opportunities.

Brandon emphasizes that his team's mission is to take a step back and strategize on how to "reintroduce NASCAR to Black and brown communities," before adding, "This is not your grandfather's Nascar."

To learn more, visit www.nascar.com/diversity. To watch Brandon's full interview, visit www.ebony.com/legacy-leaders-1/ or you can catch it below.