Since 2000, the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program has partnered with schools across the country to place talented students with a passion for NASCAR in internship positions within the industry with hopes of the students landing a full-time placement in the sport.
This year, the NDIP had over 2,000 applicants for its 10-week summer program that began at the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.
Paula Miller, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, and her team were tasked with selecting the best-of-the-best applicants for the program, something that is certainly no easy task.
For Miller, it all starts with getting the word out about the program, which has become rather simple over the past 18 years due to the reputation that the Diversity Internship Program has built.
“Because it has been out there for 18 years, we have to do far less marketing than you would think,” said Miller. “Word of mouth is incredible. People who have had wonderful experiences paired with meaningful work, return to the classroom with a great experience and tell their peers. We generate a significant amount of interest before we post the openings. That’s probably the best tribute, but we also do a fair amount of online marketing via social media and the college career centers that we partner with.”
Once the word is out and applicants apply, Miller and company begin sifting through the applicant pool and are tasked with the difficult job of selecting a slim number of interns from an incredibly diverse pool of applicants.
When selecting interns, Miller mentioned that experience, in addition to great grades and a passion not only for NASCAR but for personal and professional growth, is a major factor.
“We’re looking for people who are specialists in the jobs that have openings,” said Miller. “There are many jobs within the industry that require a specific specialty, and we look to pair interns that have experience or coursework in that specialty with the position. We have a threshold on grades too and are keen on getting people who are bright and can apply themselves across the board.”
While grades and experience are pivotal for applicants wanting to intern in the NASCAR industry, so too is a desire to continue to learn about all facets of the sport and also build a solid network.
“We’re looking for smart people who bring the skill set desired but are also interested in growing personally and learning about the sport and the networking dynamic that goes along with it,” said Miller.
NASCAR executives know that in sports, who you are connected to is vital to getting a job, whether it’s in the industry or outside of it. Because of that, over the course of the 10-week summer internship, interns have ample networking and professional development opportunities through “Lunch and Learns.”
The Lunch and Learn events give the interns an opportunity to hear from industry executives in addition to people outside the sport. The goal? Help the interns better themselves and see that with hard work and a passion for learning, they can climb the corporate ladder.
“We kick it off with NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton, a guy who marvels at the curiosity and eagerness of young folks who come into the sport,” mentioned Miller. “We begin with someone who has had a long steady career with the sanctioning body and also try to introduce them to people who are new or do something unique like work with digital media. We want them to realize that if they work hard and grow they can also be at the top of the organization.”
Lapchick’s sessions have focused on everything from resume work with the interns to simply providing general career advice.
Miller marveled at what Lapchick brings to the “Lunch and Learns,” saying, “We want them to have exposure to dynamic leaders and diverse people who might resemble their skillset. Dr. Lapchick inspires the interns to see sport as something incredible and something that they can contribute to with their abilities. That’s the end goal, having the interns leave better than they came in.”
Leaving a more well-rounded individual and obtaining a full-time job are certainly goals for the NDIP interns, and over the years there have been many success stories.
One success story is Brandon Thompson. Thompson is a two-time NDIP alum and currently manages the NASCAR Touring Series, a position he has held since July 2016.
“I needed an internship for college credit going into my junior year,” said Thompson. “The only personal requirement that I had was that I wanted to go home to Nashville (Tennessee) for the summer. I was doing what my mother always told me not to do and being nosy on someone’s desk. I came across the NASCAR internship program and saw there was an opening at the Nashville Superspeedway. I was fortunate to get the internship, and it turned in to another internship again in the summer of 2004. Fast forward 14 years later and I’m still with the industry.”
To anyone considering the internship, Thompson preaches that a passion for the sport and desire to take on significant projects are pivotal for a great experience.
“I was able to dig in after showing interest in taking on significant responsibility,” said the NASCAR Touring Series Managing Director. “By the end of my final summer, I had led by a major promotional deal with one of our sponsors and got to sit in on both pre and post-race meetings.”
While experience was key for Thompson, it was the networking that led to him landing a career in the sport.
“Networking was very important,” he said. “I interacted directly with folks who worked in the industry operations group. They coordinate the pre and post-race festivities. I met a gentlemen named Jason Dukes and stayed in contact with him. When he took another job I was blessed to receive his job and off it went.”
While Thompson has had the chance to remain in the sport, this year, one of the summer interns will have a chance to stay in the sport as well. At the conclusion of the 10-week program, NASCAR will hire one intern full-time, on a one-year contract, and rotate them through a number of departments over the course of 12 months.
“We’re in our first year of bringing on an intern full-time, right out of the program,” said Miller. “It’s great to see someone blossom beyond the 10-week period and see them become more and more interested in staying with the industry.”
Thompson is one of many success stories and while Miller is excited to bring an intern on full-time, she will tell you that all of the successes of the program bring her great pride.
“The NDIP gives me pride and excitement,” she said. “You’re seeing it repeat itself with different people every year. It’s amazing to identify super talented kids and bring them into the sport full-time. They’ve risen to spots where they have a huge influence and are hiring people themselves. It’s all about the people and working with those who believe in the sport.”
The internship has become a premier program and each year, one intern is recognized at the NASCAR Diversity Awards ceremony with the diversity internship award. Interns from all across the program have been a recipient of the award, something Miller credits to the structure of the program.
“We’ve seen interns from all different parts of the business get the diversity internship award. They can grow, network and compete all in one summer. That’s why it’s such a premier program.”