Reaching Victory Lane as a NASCAR Intern

Kelsey Nelson, Special to The Informer | 7/29/2013, 12:48 p.m.
Ten weeks and a new wealth of knowledge later, I sit in my apartment in Charlotte, N.C., reflecting on my ...
Kelsey Nelson (left) was one of 19 students chosen for NASCAR's diversity internship program this summer.

Done. Finished. Completed. Ten weeks and a new wealth of knowledge later, I sit in my apartment in Charlotte, N.C., reflecting on my internship with NASCAR, the largest motorsport in the world.

Here I sit packing the last few items I can squeeze into the same two suitcases I landed with at Charlotte Douglas Airport. Flying into Charlotte as a novice to NASCAR, I could have never predicted how much my life would change over the course of one sweltering and thunderous summer.

NASCAR's diversity internship program helped transform the unknown world of motorsports into an understandable realm for this young black woman from the suburbs. I knew nothing more than the names of Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon but am leaving the industry as an expert in marketing, knowing much more than just NASCAR's drivers.

I was able to meet NASCAR President Mike Helton and many other vice presidents throughout the organization. They all made time and commitments to speaking with the next generation of sports professionals.

"I learned so much about NASCAR as a sport but more importantly as a business and how it operates on a daily basis," said Sungwhan Kim, a Korean-American senior at Syracuse University. "It's so intricate but everyone knows and understands their role to make NASCAR a successful company and brand. I was grateful every day to be a part of the NASCAR team."

Though I'm leaving with a wealth of NASCAR memorabilia, many of the valuable things I'd be taking home were not tangible, because they were lessons I learned about the industry. Going back home to Maryland, where NASCAR is not as big as it is in the South, I would be a liaison for the sport that had given me a chance and believed in me.

I've always known I wanted to be in the sports industry. Sports broadcasting is my passion and has been a goal since I could first talk and would help my father call plays as we watched football games.

This internship opened me up to a new side of the industry. I worked in the department for Integrated Marketing Communications while at NASCAR, learning many things about sports marketing and communication that I will take into my future career and back to the Minor Football League where I host the television show, "The MFL Experience."

Yes, the looks still come when I mention I interned for NASCAR, but behind the surprised look, I know there is a joy that people can associate a different shade of color to the stereotypical faces associated with NASCAR.

As one of 19 interns from across the country, I was able to learn about a sport to which I never pay much attention before. I was able to represent my school, my hometown, my family, my friends, my state and my heritage from the time I first stepped foot into NASCAR's uptown Charlotte office. With the unlimited support I got from home, I was able to thrive in this family-owned business for which I have so much respect.