MOORESVILLE, N.C. — The Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and the NTT IndyCar Series seasons are scheduled to begin March 5-7 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Of course, much of that depends on the current COVID-19 pandemic and how many Americans are vaccinated by that time.

But assuming everything goes according to schedule, the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder system will give many young drivers and teams a fresh start on what they hope will be a path to IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500.

One of those teams is Force Indy, which will enter car No. 99 in USF2000 beginning in 2021.

Force Indy is part of the “Race for Equality & Change.” Its mission is to bring ethnic diversity to open-wheel racing and provide an opportunity for young drivers, mechanics, engineers, marketing and public relations representatives from the African American community.

The team is setting up shop in Concord, N.C., and will work in conjunction with Team Penske, which is located in nearby Mooresville.

The team will use No. 99 on the car in honor of the late Dewey “Rajo Jack” Gatson, who drove a roadster with that number toward the end of his career in 1951. Gatson, one of the winningest African American drivers and mechanics in racing history, never received an opportunity to race in the Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske is determined to help diversify the sport and give ethnic minorities a fair opportunity to one day advance into IndyCar.

“As an African American male, I cannot understate the importance of this,” said Jimmie McMillan, the chief diversity officer with Penske Entertainment. “I’m someone who did not grow up with the sport but grew to fall in love with the sport over time and over being introduced to it by others. I have strived to spread that love to other African Americans, people of color.

“This is very pivotal for the Race for Equality and Change that we are undergoing right now. I could tell you under our leadership, certainly under Roger Penske, but also under (Penske Entertainment CEO) Mark Miles, (Penske Corporation President) Bud Denker, (IMS President) Doug Boles, (Penske Entertainment Vice President of Event) Allison Melangton, (IndyCar President) Jay Frye, we are all committed to changing this sport. It is an everyday laser focus on what we can do to move the needle.”

Coach Rod Reid, who brings 40 years of auto racing experience including NXG Youth Motorsports, is the president and CEO of Force Indy. He is in charge of building the USF2000 operation and having it ready to race in St. Petersburg.

“I’ve had the chance over the past six years to work with coach Reid in the NXG program,” McMillan said. “To see his heart, his passion, his dedication to provide opportunities to many folks, many kids who wanted to get into racing, their parents didn’t know how, didn’t know anything about the sport, but they brought their kids to coach Reid.

“I happen to be one of those parents. My sons are participating in the program. My son I know is watching from him, looking at coach, thinking, There’s a future for me.

“This is a significant move. To have coach Reid at the helm, I can tell you the team is being led by the right person to take this initiative in the right direction. This is not about a driver, it’s not even about coach Reid just as an owner, but this is about the commitment to provide opportunities throughout the sport, whether it’s accounting, HR, legal, marketing. There are so many ways in which we can be more involved and more engaged in this sport.

“Through that we’re going to service the fans we already have. There have been people of color following this sport for a long time. For them, this will be a happy moment.

“We hopefully also will introduce new people to this thing that we love called auto racing. As part of the Race for Equality and Change, this is a big step. This is also a big step in our social construct for providing equality and equal opportunity for people of color in all areas of our lives.”

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