Rod Reid’s Force Indy Moves Black Racers Toward INDYCAR Success

Indianapolis businessman Rod Reid intends to help Black racers succeed - photo courtesy Rod Reid

Rod Reid is a catalyst for change in the motorsports industry. And specifically within the parameters of INDYCAR, where he is a catalyst for the hiring of Black drivers and crew members in both the premier NTT INDYCAR SERIES and the ladder series that help train personnel to compete at the United States’ highest level of open-wheel racing.

Reid, an Indianapolis-based businessman, started Nexgeneracers (NXG) Youth Motorsports Academy to help eradicate the barriers faced by young men and women attempting to enter the sport. The accent is on youngsters of color, who don’t always get the opportunities afforded to white children. After all, investments are mandatory to drive, to learn the valuable life skills of STEM education, mechanics and leadership.

Reid had little or no interest in racing until his family moved from Atlantic City to Indianapolis; since he liked cars, he gravitated towards the sport despite the fact that his family lacked interest in racing. He became support personnel, a “yellow shirt” at the Indianapolis 500 when he was 17 and was hooked. “I thought it was the greatest thing in the world,” he said of that first experience.

Reid congratulates Rowe – photo courtesy Rod Reid

After attending Purdue University, studying engineering and getting into that trade, Reid started his own business, with emphasis on advertising and branding. Introduced to a driver looking for sponsorship from a home fuel oil company with whom Reid was then affiliated, “We went through his portfolio and request for sponsorship but it didn’t fit for that company.”

He liked what Charles Wilson was selling and set about raising money to get him into the sport. “That’s how I got started; doing sponsorships for Charles Wilson. We raised a few bucks and eventually got to the point where we became best friends.” That friendship never ceased; Wilson succumbed to cancer in 2011.

In 1991, Reid was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a fan when Willy T. Ribbs came to compete, qualifying as the first Black man to race in the Indy 500. He thought the floodgates would open after that, but they still have not. Only Long Beach-based George Mack has qualified and raced the Memorial Day classic, finishing 17th in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 2002. That’s a long drought.

What Rod Reid is doing to change the look of Indy-style racing has become an obsession for the businessman. As he sees more and more Black, Brown and women mechanics in the sport, he’s actively looking to find the right driver to place in this exclusive club. And it is very exclusive. Since there are only 33 spots to fill for the 500, a driver needs to be quick in practice, for 10 miles of qualifying and both quick and smart for 200 laps of racing.

Myles Rowe on the 2023 Indianapolis 500 grid – Anne Profit photo

The primary racer currently in Rod Reid’s Force Indy team portfolio is Myles Rowe. At 23 years old, Rowe is the 2023 USF Pro 2000 champion and begins his first season in INDY NXT racing for the large HMD Motorsports outfit with Force Indy assistance. Rowe, from Powder Springs GA, currently makes his home in Brooklyn, NY. He earned a $640,000-plus scholarship with his 2023 championship, which enabled the move to INDY NXT this year.

With key outdoor and indoor karting accomplishments under his belt, including an introduction to INDYCAR star Will Power, Rowe won the indoor GoPro Motorplex Karting Championship after earning Andretti Indoor Karting Championship.

Realizing he needed to have a backup plan, Rowe took time away from the sport to complete his college education, graduating from Pace University in Manhattan, with his degree in Film and Screen Studies. He took three years away from the sport before entering the USF2000 series in 2021. At the start of the 2021 season, and at Power’s suggestion, Myles Rowe received and accepted an invitation to race within Penske Entertainment’s Race for Equality & Change, a program initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic following the murder of George Floyd.

The program was started to address the lack of diversity within North American open wheel racing, and working together with Reid’s Force Indy team, it was created with the intent to specifically develop talent with a diverse group of both drivers and support crew.

Rowe and Reid celebrate at Mid-Ohio – photo courtesy Rod Reid

In his first USF2000 year, Rowe earned the initial victory for a Black person in an INDYCAR-sanctioned contest. His second year in USF2000, with Pabst Racing, Rowe took five victories and finished second. A second year with Pabst Racing last season, with support from Force Indy, netted his first INDYCAR-sanctioned championship in USF Pro 2000.

Now it’s up to Rowe to see if he’s ready for prime time, by entering a strong INDY NXT championship – more than 20 cars are expected at next week’s season-starting event on the streets of St. Petersburg – and attempting to be the third Black driver to compete at the Indianapolis 500. It’s a tall order, but one that both Reid and Rowe feel they’re prepared to achieve. His three years away from the sport as Rowe completed his education didn’t seem to hurt his capabilities, as his 11 USF2000 and USF Pro 2000 wins in three seasons attest.

To support Rowe in INDY NXT requires money, of course, and the funding can run – for a competitive entry – well in excess of $1M. These big numbers mean Force Indy can only concentrate on small numbers of drivers, but the program extends well beyond driving a race car. Reid is emphatic about the need to get more kids interested in the STEM side of motorsport.

In 2006 Reid began nexgeneracers (NXG) Youth Motorsports Academy, on the web as nxgyouth.org. With more than 3,000 kids, usually aged 10-12 going through the program since its inception, nxgyouth is able to bring more young people of color into the sport.

“The program is all about STEM,” Reid’s emphasized. “We use racing as a life-skills tool and try to bring racing to the stick-and-ball path, where talent, more than money gets young people into the sport.”

Myles Rowe with his USF Pro 2000 championship trophy – photo courtesy Rod Reid

Of those 3,000 young people, the number of drivers he’s mentored are fewer than a handful and include Trans Am ace Ernie Francis Jr., who raced the past two seasons in INDY NXT for Force Indy. Reid is also mentoring Violet Townsend, 17, who has raced karts and, in 2023 worked in the same Skip Barber program that graduated Sebastian Wheldon this past year. The only thing holding Townsend back? The usual: money.

Force Indy and the NXG Youth Motorsports Academy program are creating a pipeline for young people of color in racing. Having a guy like Rod Reid as their mentor can only help them succeed more readily.

About Anne Proffit 1248 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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