John Ferguson (left), Amanda Oliver (center) and Eric Ryan (right) are recently appointed company officers based out of NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla.
After a robust career in hospitality, sports, and entertainment with brands such as Hyatt Hotels, the NBA’s Washington Wizards, and the NHL’s Washington Capitals, John Ferguson was hired in 2021 to lead people and culture strategies as the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at NASCAR. Based out of Daytona Beach, Fla., he became the company’s highest-ranking Black executive and first officer of color to preside over HR.
“There’s so much to appreciate about NASCAR as a dynamic sport with millions of passionate fans. Each race is special and exciting in a way that is unique to motorsports,” said Ferguson. “The opportunity to build and grow a truly diverse and inclusive culture at all levels within this amazing organization has been incredibly exciting, and already we’re seeing significant gains as a result of our industry-wide commitment to DE&I.”
NASCAR began its efforts to diversify more than 20 years ago with the launch of programs like NASCAR Drive for Diversity, designed to introduce minorities to the sport both as competitors– drivers and pit crew– and employees. Amid the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans in 2020, NASCAR condemned such injustice and in doing so, acknowledged its own accountability in helping to bridge the racial divide through the power of sport.
Looking inward first under the leadership of President Steve Phelps, NASCAR appointed Brandon Thompson as its first Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, and soon afterward introduced diversity councils, employee resources groups and revamped its recruiting and hiring practices to ensure a broader net was cast in attracting top talent.
In the two years since, NASCAR is experiencing a resurgence and welcoming an increasingly diverse audience of new fans (with first-time attendee ticket sales at NASCAR tracks up nearly 50%), team owners like Michael Jordan and Pitbull, and employees and company leaders. As NASCAR continues to see growth across key metrics – TV viewership and at-track attendance are up double digits – there are more women and multicultural officers and leaders driving the sport forward and positioning NASCAR for long-term prosperity.
“As we grow our fan base, it’s important to have diverse perspectives on our internal teams to provide meaningful insight into the brand experience for those audiences, and that’s what we’re starting to see at NASCAR,” said Ferguson. “When you look at core functions across both NASCAR’s competition and commercial teams, that diverse leadership presence is growing and it’s apparent in the widening exposure to groups that historically may not have felt alignment with the brand but are now new fans of the sport.”
This growth results from a blend of new hires coupled with the ongoing development and advancement of longtime employees. A few examples of internal movement that supported this goal are the promotion of NASCAR attorney Amanda Oliver to the role of General Counsel and Jusan Hamilton becoming the first Black race director of the sport’s biggest event, the DAYTONA 500, this past February.
Last year, Eric Ryan was hired to lead NASCAR’s communications team after serving in leadership roles at Nike, AT&T and the New York Stock Exchange. In addition to overseeing communications for the company and its 16 racetrack properties, Ryan is charged with advancing NASCAR’s diversity narrative, in part to attract a broader representation of internal and external stakeholders.
“To understand that NASCAR is becoming more diverse and inclusive, outside audiences need to see and feel it in the stories that we tell about our sport,” said Ryan. “What’s true but maybe not yet fully understood is that we have diverse team members across the enterprise, at both the executive level and on the front lines, who are leading NASCAR and shaping the future of this industry.”
“If there was every any question, this sport is indeed for everyone, including us,” said Ferguson. “We hope that your next entertainment pit stop includes a trip to experience the thrill and excitement of a NASCAR race.”