Beasley helps change face of racing

There are four Las Vegans currently running in NASCAR’s top two touring series, which not only is remarkable but only one fewer than from North Carolina.

When I arrived at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, the next local leadfoot who might soon see his picture and car number put on a T-shirt was listening to Kyle Busch’s media conference. The Durango High grad was saying he still tries hard to win every race, despite what NASCAR believed before it changed the rules again to encourage guys to drive harder.

I asked Jay Beasley if he had a minute to chat. He said sure, but that Jimmie Johnson was coming in for his media conference.

He wanted to hear what Johnson had to say, because Jimmie Johnson is The Man in NASCAR; he wins races and championships, has a gorgeous wife and darling kids, and Beasley wants to learn how the driver of the 48 does it. At least the part about winning races and championships.

Then Matt Kenseth dropped by.

Kenseth has won races in Las Vegas and the Sprint Cup championship, too. Beasley still had this studious look on his face, like he was taking his SATs or something.

After Kenseth said his wife was expecting another baby but was under strict orders to have it on a Monday — no relief driver needed — he stepped away from the microphone. No other drivers would be coming in to chat about the new qualifying rules or Lamaze classes.

Jay Beasley apologized for making me wait, which is something you’re never going to get from, say, Tony Stewart.

Not only is this kid fast — he was your 2013 Super Late Model Division champion at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring, winning seven times in 11 starts — he’s humble and polite. He does, however, aspire to lofty goals.

He wants not just to become the next Las Vegan to chase the Sprint Cup, but to win it.

If that happens, it would be great for him — and great for NASCAR, too, because Jay Beasley is an African-American racecar driver, and you just don’t see a lot of those.

Only one black driver has won a Cup race: Wendell Scott, in 1964, and even then the people at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., at first said Buck Baker won, and they wouldn’t give the trophy to Scott until two hours after everybody had gone home.

Jay Beasley said he knew who Wendell Scott was, and then he said he won the trophy that bears his name — the Wendell Scott Trailblazer Award. So it figured he would know who Wendell Scott was.

He also said he beat Las Vegan Dylan Kwasniewski, the kid with the giant hat, to win $10,000 and the big open comp race at LVMS in November. That didn’t figure as much, because Kwasniewski appears to be on the fast track to the Cup series — or at least he was until he slammed the wall during Nationwide Series practice on Friday afternoon.

Beasley received an invitation along with 19 others to compete for a seat with Rev Racing under NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity banner. He won. So now he’s a full-time driver in the K&N Series, the proving ground that launched Kwasniewski into the Nationwide cars and that big hat — and the wall in Turn 3 — after only a two-year apprenticeship.

“The biggest thing is just being around what’s going on right now,” said Beasley, a 22-year-old former lacrosse player from Cimarron-Memorial High, about imitating a sponge on Friday — he was soaking up the scene, absorbing everything, trying hard to remember the names of myriad new faces to whom he was being introduced.

“I’m listening to how the drivers are talking, how they are communicating, what they are thinking about and how much they know about what’s going on with the car, with the team, so everything is one,” Beasley said.

As for the social implications of what he’s trying to do, well, that means something, too, given only seven black drivers have started a Cup race in 64 years of Cup racing. “That’s why I’m with Rev Racing, because I am a black American,” Beasley said.

“For me to be in the position that I’m in — there’s 100,000 people who don’t get the chance that I’m getting. So my window of 100,000 went down to about 300 who are trying to make it into Truck, Nationwide and Cup.

“But at the end of the day, when I get in that car and put my helmet on, everybody’s the same. That’s what it comes down to.”

A little later, Jeff Motley of the speedway’s publicity department came by and whisked Beasley away, saying he wanted to introduce him to some of the stock-car racing media.

I thought about telling Jay Beasley that he probably didn’t have to remember those names. But he seems like a bright young man who is going places in a hurry, so he’ll probably figure it out on his own.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.