The calendar says it is February and this great nation will honor the achievements of its African American citizens. African Americans have made incredible advances in Medicine, Education, Business, Journalism and many other fields.  Jackie Joyner-Kersey and The Williams Sisters will inspire girls who want to be athletes. Dr. Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman will incite future activists. The next great politician can be inspired by President Obama and a host of past and present congressmen/women, judges and senators. Yet there is (as you would suspect if you’ve read any of my articles before) a thought-provoking question: “Who ignites the imaginations of young African American Car Guys/Gals?”  I fail to see the mainstream examples of an almost unrecognized bevy of Black History, such as Lewis Hamilton’s ascent to become the only Formula 1 World Champion of African descent. The Auto Industry and Motorsports are littered with fine examples of outstanding African American achievement.  I would like to take a few scrolls and clicks of these electronic pages and share a few great names from the world of wheels, past and present that I hope are inspiring to our seasoned adults and our curious youth:



[one_half] antron brown [/one_half]

[one_half_last] In 2012, ANTRON BROWN Won the Mello Yello World Championship; became first African-American NHRA world champ and first black driver to win a major U.S. auto racing championship title.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Willy T Ribbs[/one_half]

[one_half_last]WILLY T. RIBBS was the first African American to qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500. He went on to become the Winner of the Formula Ford Dunlop Championship in Europe. Ribbs was the Recipient of two “Driver of the Year” titles while driving for such racing icons as Dan Gurney, Jack Roush and Derek Walker. He was the first African American to compete in NASCAR’s Winston Cup series, the first African American to compete in CART/Indy Car Championship (in partnership with entertainer, Bill Cosby) and the first – and only – African American to test for a Formula 1 Grand Prix team. [/one_half_last]




[one_half]Rosie the Riveter[/one_half]


In 1944 ROSE WILL MONROE, a rivet gun operator, was working at Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run plant when actor Walter Pidgeon chose her to appear in a promotional film for war bonds. Rose became the live personification of the already created fictional “Rosie the Riveter,” as depicted in the colorful “We Can Do It!” posters showing a determined woman factory worker.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Since beginning her career with Toyota in 1991, LATONDRA NEWTON has held a variety of positions at Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (TMA). She served as General Manager of the Team Member Development Center (TDC) at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. (TEMA). Assistant General Manager of Human Resources, Management Development and Diversity Department are two more hats she has worn. Newton also managed the Facilities and Transportation Department for Toyota Relations and Community Relations in her role as Assistant General Manager of Corporate Affairs. In 2009, she began her role at TMA as a vice president and was promoted to group vice president in 2013.<[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Latondra Newton[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Michael Burton [/one_half]

[one_half_last]Two time cancer survivor and man of the cloth, MICHAEL BURTON serves as GM’s Director, Exterior Design for Crossover Vehicles. Burton became Design Manager of Exteriors and Interiors for Prestige and Performance Platforms to include Cadillac’s XLR, SRX and STS. Recent accomplishments include interior designs for the Volt, Enclave, Traverse, Terrain and Equinox. Burton has since been appointed the position of Interior Design Lead for the next-generation Chevrolet Volt.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]TIA NORFLEET is the first and only woman to be issued a NASCAR license in the organization’s 63-year history. While that is a huge accomplishment, Norfleet continues to work toward her goal of becoming the first black female driver.[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Tia Norfleet [/one_half_last]




[one_half]As a veteran of the manufacturing and retail aspects of the automotive industry, the latest jewel in the crown of accomplishments marking BILL PERKINS’ 39-year career was his appointment to Chair the 2012 North American International Auto Show. Further, with this appointment, history is made. Perkins is the first African-American entrusted with the responsibility of spearheading one of the most significant auto shows in the world.[/one_half][one_half_last]Bill Perkins[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Bill Lester[/one_half]

[one_half_last]On May 14, 2011, BILL LESTER made sports car history by becoming the first African-American driver to win in any Grand-Am division, after a stellar career in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Ironically, Lester won at the famed Virginia International Raceway, located close to the home of NASCAR’s only African-American winner, Wendell Scott.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]EDWARD T. WELBURN is General Motors’ current Vice President of Global Design. To date, he holds the highest-ranking position as an African American in the automotive industry. He holds the same position at General Motors that Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell once held.[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Edward T. Welburn[/one_half_last]




[one_half]WENDELL SCOTT is the only black driver to win a race in what is now the Sprint Cup Series and became the first African-American to obtain a NASCAR racing license. On December 1, 1961, Scott became the first (and only, to-date) African American to win a Grand National (now called The Nationwide Series) event. NASCAR awarded Scott the win two years later, but his family never actually received the trophy he had earned till 2010–37 years after the race, and 20 years after Scott had died. Only a few black drivers are known to have started at least one race in what is now the Sprint Cup Series: Elias Bowie, Charlie Scott, George Wiltshire, Randy Bethea, all followed Scott’s amazing lead.[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Wendell Scott[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Ralph V. Gilles[/one_half]

[one_half_last]While he is actually of Haitian and Canadian descent, but we have to include RALPH V. GILLES (he’s so cool, who wouldn’t include him). He is currently the President and CEO of the SRT Brand and Senior Vice President of Design and CEO of the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) division at Chrysler Group LLC. Gilles also serves on the Board of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, his alma mater.  Simply put, this is the designer of the Chryselr 300 and Dodge Viper (and is considering a drop-top Viper)!





[one_half]Don Butler[/one_half]

[one_half_last]DON BUTLER is the vice president of marketing for GM’s luxury automobile and flagship brand, Cadillac and is working to return to the pinnacle of luxury brands in the world. Butler ascended to the upper echelon of GM decision making through his work with GM. in 2005, Butler was appointed Chairman and Managing Director, General Motors Egypt where he led the achievement of all time sales records in that country. Butler returned to the U.S. in 2007 where he was named Executive Director, Chevrolet Truck Marketing, guiding the Chevrolet truck brands through a critical time of restructuring in the U.S. market. Butler is returning to GM after a stint as Vice President of OnStar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors Corporation, where he was responsible for global and OEM business leading the deployment of OnStar to other OEM partners and outside the U.S. and Canada.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]BRAD DAUGHERTY, the former NBA star retired from the game of Basketball after playing in college at the University of North Carolina and as an all-star center for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and is currently co-owner of JTG Racing. In 1988, he went from the court to the track with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team. You can also enjoy his knowledgeable insights as a NASCAR analyst for ESPN.[/one_half]

[one_half_last]Brad Daugherty[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Nicole Lyons[/one_half]

[one_half_last]The daughter of a racecar driver, NICOLE LYONS is extraordinarily talented behind the wheel. As the first African American female to race professionally in the National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock Series, she has turned heads since 2005. Lyons owns a muscle car restoration shop, Cole Muscle Cars and in 2011, she was the lone female engine specialist on the SPEED Channel’s auto reality show, Car Warriors.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Becoming the first African American to dominate in Motocross, racking up a record-breaking 11 American Motorcyclist Association Amateur National titles, and being named 2002 AMA “Rookie Of The Year” would be amazing enough for many. JAMES STEWART JR., however needed more. In 2004, “Bubba” as he is known, won both the AMA 125 East Supercross Championship and the AMA 125 Motocross National Championship, and four years later, in 2008, he became the second rider in history to complete a perfect motocross season—24 wins in 24 races and thus, the Championship. Sprinkle in his 2007 and 2009 Supercross Championships and X Games Medals and you have all the ingredients for a winner.[/one_half][one_half_last]James Stewart Jr.[/one_half_last]




Charles Wiggins

When many of the white garage mechanics left to join the Army, CHARLES WIGGINS became the first black mechanic in Evansville, Indiana. Wiggins and his wife, Roberta moved to Indianapolis to open their own garage in 1922 where Wiggins became that city’s top mechanic. In his spare time Wiggins assembled parts from auto junkyards to develop his own car, known as “the Wiggins Special.” Wiggins tried to enter his car in the Indianapolis 500, only to be blocked by the American Automobile Association because of his race.  Unperturbed, Wiggins and other African American drivers formed their own racing league, holding races across the Midwest. Wiggins was outstanding in these races, earning himself the nickname “the Negro Speed King.”  Wiggins’s success garnered the attention of wealthy black Indianapolis resident William Rucker, who established the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, an annual 100-mile race for black drivers on a one-mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairground, which with a crowd of 12,000,  was the largest sporting event held for African Americans at the time. Charlie Wiggins’ racing career ended in 1936. In the fourth lap of the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes race, he was seriously injured in a 13-car wreck, losing a leg.  He was never able to race again. Without its biggest draw, the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes folded at the end of the year.  Following the crash, Charlie Wiggins made himself a wooden leg and for the next 40 years built and repaired cars while training and advising drivers and mechanics. He continued to fight for African American participation in motor racing until his death in Indianapolis in 1979 at the age of 82.




[one_half]Sam Belnavis[/one_half][one_half_last]SAM BELNAVIS is one of only a handful of persons of color to have owned a NASCAR racing team (a list that includes football great, Randy Moss and Brad Daugherty). Belnavis is still very active and is currently head of Roush-Fenway’s Driver Diversity program.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]In 1972, Vanguard Racing became the first black-owned team to enter a car in the famed Indianapolis 500. In 2005, Miller and his son were the first African American team owners to win a track championship in NASCAR history. The team was led by LEONARD W. MILLER, who also founded the Black American Racing Association (BARA) that same year. The Association has had as many as 5,000 members and today, BARA continues the legacy started by Mr. Miller’s efforts.[/one_half][one_half_last]Leonard W Miller[/one_half_last]




[one_half]Macks[/one_half][one_half_last]GEORGE MACK (left) is the second African American (after William Theodore Ribbs) to drive in the Indianapolis 500 in 2002. Currently retired, Mack inspired his brother LLOYD MACK (right) who followed in his footsteps to pick up the sport. The younger Mack has won two National Karting Championships and five California State Championships of his own.[/one_half_last]




[one_half]When the UAW negotiated contracts with Detroit’s Big Three automakers, JIMMY SETTLES played an integral role in the sometimes-contentious negotiations that ultimately resulted in more automotive jobs. Of course, that’s nothing new for Settles, now more than 40 years into his career. He was elected to his first union position in 1970, not long after his 20th birthday. He started as a member of the UAW Local 600 while working at the Dearborn Iron Foundry. Now he’s the vice president of a union that has roughly 400,000 active members.[/one_half][one_half_last]Jimmy Settles[/one_half_last]



…and the list goes on.

Our own Ryan Konko says: “This reflects what makes the automotive culture so great – that it is for everybody, no matter race, creed, orientation, etc…”. Individuals have soared to heights once thought impossible because of their ethnicity and the hurdles that were placed before them because of it. Please, History Teacher, include African Americans from the arena of motoring and place their accomplishments alongside the trails blazed by Sojourner Truth and Sidney Portier. It will help inspire young petrol heads and prove that the fire of ingenuity and brilliance has not gone out

I leave you with this quote from W.E.B. DuBois which I think sums up the legacy that has been and will be made in all areas, including our beloved car hobby:

“I have loved my work, I have loved people and my play, but always I have been uplifted by the thought that what I have done well will live long and justify my life, that what I have done ill or never finished can now be handed on to others for endless days to be finished, perhaps better than I could have done.”


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