Thumbprint Racing - Test Day Results
John will tell you that he has always seen color, when John was a toddler he would color all of his sketches of people half white and half brown right down the center of their bodies. His Mom asked him one day why he was doing that and he replied, “I love both you and Dad, I’m not going to choose a favorite.” John’s Dad is African-American and his Mom is Caucasian. His pictures definitely didn’t cover all the races around the world, but his answer held a deeper question; how can you choose a favorite based on color?
John’s parents grew up in two completely different environments as children. His Father is from the inner city of Durham, NC and his Mother is from a little farming town called Salina, KS. Since they came from different backgrounds, John and his siblings grew up with a different perspective than most kids. He was fortunate to see how the two different cultures in the middle to low working class navigated their lifestyles. Despite the many differences between these two differing cultures, he noticed a common theme in the urban and rural communities; many kids felt overlooked and under resourced.
Like most families in America, John’s family didn’t have thousands of dollars of expendable income. Unfortunately, in order to compete in high levels of racing, one must have significant amounts of money to spare. Through John's deep passion for racing, he didn’t let this obstacle deter him from his calling. To him, racing was always much bigger than a sport, it has continued to be about bringing people together from all walks of life, making them feel wanted and valued. It's about giving people a chance to join in, when in the past, the story line has been different. So when it came to money stopping him, courage and passion overcame any potential fears.
So Why Thumbprint? Why Now?
During John’s college years, he was able to share his vision for the racing community in a class, and come to find out there was a man by the name of Chad Davis who happened to be a nationally ranked Legend Car driver. His passions aligned closely to John’s and their friendship began. Around the same time, John was working as the Youth Director for his church and got to work closely with a non-profit who helped at risk children in the inner city. A man named Tré Dunn was overseeing the youth program from elementary to high school in inner city Nashville. John and Tré got to exchange stories and as they spent time together leading and mentoring kids, they both discovered each others passion to see at risk kids be empowered to believe in themselves. So the three of them began to work tirelessly to make to combine all of these visions into one and make it a reality. What fueled them was the thought of how this Vision could impact and empower others who had little to no voice start to believe they had something to offer.
NASCAR used to be one of the biggest sports in America but over the past couple years; viewings and fans purchasing tickets have been decreasing. Culture has been shifting in America for a few decades now, which John believes has led to NASCAR’s lower attendance issues. NASCAR continues to make great efforts of changing the stereotype that it only appeals to the Caucasian audience, but still today NASCAR fans and drivers are predominantly white. John believes that if the racing community spent time and resources investing in kids from elementary-high school in the urban and rural areas, the next generation of NASCAR fans will be diversified and not limited to a certain color or position in society. NASCAR could truly broaden its horizon’s and influence different cultures in ways it never has before.
John believes Thumbprint is being born in a pivotal moment in our nation, as people are becoming more aware of the longing and need for unity. John’s heart is to give those who feel excluded and or overlooked an open invitation to a seat at the table and see those who feel stuck in their circumstances an opportunity to chase their dreams. But role models are needed and as a kid from a mid-low income family, John noticed that particularly in NASCAR there was no he could look up to for inspiration who looked like him and who had the same struggles. John believes that this is what NASCAR needs, someone who looks like them and who was cut from the same cloth, who understands the fight to not be defined by circumstances.
John’s vision for Thumbprint is to see the underprivileged and overlooked empowered to succeed in the auto racing industry, by living life hand in hand in the community. Now with so many technological advancements like simulation racing, practicing one’s racing skills is significantly more feasible and attainable. So when a kid comes to one of our after school programs and shares a big dream, like becoming a race car driver, we can train him/her starting out on one of our simulators. Or when a kid expresses a dream to be a fashion designer, we can pair him/her up with a mentor in the fashion industry. Our hope here at Thumbprint is that we will be able to help bridge the gap between where these kids are and where they want to go. Everybody has a dream, but some people stop dreaming because they believe that their dream is not attainable or they don't know how to set attainable goals to get there. Here at Thumbprint, we want to be a lighthouse for the community to not just dream but to go and do, influencing people to make their mark on the world. Nobody in the past, present, or future has ever or will ever have your Thumbprint. So, it’s up to you to decide what type of legacy and how big of a legacy you want to leave behind.
Racing was always a big passion even at the young age of 4 years old John’s Mom would say. One hardly knows much about the world at such a stage in life, and yet John could already feel the desires and dreams starting to take shape inside him to be a race car driver. His siblings will tell you that he always kept his Jeff Gordon Hot Wheels car close by, and that you would have to watch your step in the living room as he lined up his other Hot Wheels cars for a big race.
John found the wonder in racing and never forgot it. He continually asked his parents as a child if he could enter into the sport at 5 years old, but with eight other siblings, they simply couldn’t afford it. But John kept talking about racing with his parents. After much persistency, John’s parents agreed to take him to his first NASCAR race at the age of 9 in Kansas City, Kansas. John remembers this day like it was yesterday. He was able to go down into the garages and walk on pit road. When he got to his seat he was so eager to see the start of his first race. Hearing the loud engines, feeling the energy of the crowd, and studying the precision of the drivers only solidified John’s dream to be a part of the racing community. John remembers it was right after the first caution in the race, thinking to himself:
Even though it was an incredible experience for John, he noticed something; halfway through the race John noticed that his Dad and himself were the only ones of color that John saw in the stands from his view. Every few minutes John would notice that others around him were giving them looks of confusion. These looks were sadly not new to John. He grew up in a biracial home, John’s Father is African-American and his Mom is Caucasian, so John was used to people looking at him and his family differently. But this did not stop John from loving the sport and the fans.
John’s childhood was different from other kids; he was diagnosed with a severe case of dyslexia at the age of 5. The simple acts of reading basic words and writing his brothers and sisters names proved to be a challenge. He remembers waking up every morning earlier then all of his siblings at 6AM to learn how to read, write, and spell. By the age of 9 he was finally able to spell all of his siblings names. John never allowed his circumstances to taint his way of thinking even when others would tell him what a realistic goal should be. Despite the negative voices in his life declaring that he should not count on graduating from high school on time because of the dyslexia, John was able to graduate early in 3 years. Later, he would go on to fulfill his dream of graduating from college with a degree in business. He leaned into His faith in God and kept choosing to bet on himself. Later, he would graduate from the University of Middle Tennessee with a degree in Business Administration and two minors with a 3.4 overall GPA.
When those obstacles appeared to be enough of a challenge, everything in John’s life changed at the age of 12 when his parents got a divorce. John’s priorities shifted from dreaming about being a race car driver to focusing on helping his family. He was the oldest boy in the house and it was up to him to take care of his Mom and five sisters. The next 6 years after the divorce proved to be the darkest season for his family. There did not seem to be a whole lot of room for dreaming.
However, when John went to college the dream of racing started to slowly make its way back to his heart. John finished his first semester of college with a 4.0 GPA. So his friend and himself celebrated by signing up for a Rusty Wallace driving experience in Nashville. When they arrived at the track they had a 10 min drivers meeting telling them how to go around the track. John couldn’t wait to get out there and show the world what he could do. John hopped in the car and took off, people over the radio kept on wondering who the kid was driving the black 88 car. When he got out of the car some people came up to the car intrigued to see who it was driving, and when John took off his helmet everyone was confused. At the time John had dreads and did not look like the classic race car driver. A marketing group from Nashville noticed he could drive exceptionally well, and could appeal to the African American demographic through his image, and offered to work with him. This seemed like an open door for John, but sadly he found out that cheating was mixed into the racing team’s methods. John knew that cheating could not have any part in his story, and chose to walk way.
So why is a 26 year old man still able to keep getting to the next step in the hardest sport to get into? He has fostered relationships and has continued to invite his community into the story with him. Eventually, he met a prominent man in the racing community named Michael Phelps who started the IROC racing series. By seeing John’s determination, passion, and resourcefulness, the two of them found themselves at John’s first track day. Phelps graciously loaned a car that Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, and other greats drove for him in the IROC series. When the test day came John approached the car and track like he had been at it for years. The fellow racers there that day, John’s coaches Willie Allen and Chad Davis, Phelps, and the W.A.R. Shocks team, all walked away with the same thought, “How is someone who has never been in a race car before preforming like this?” This track day proved to be a moment of recognition that John not only had a deep passion for racing, but has talent to make becoming a race car driver a reality for himself.
John’s vision over the years has continued to grow. Yes, he loved the sport of racing, but he began to see racing as something much bigger than himself. He saw it as a way to unite people, to inspire those who come from less than easy circumstances and to encourage the overlooked to chase their dreams. John wants to use racing as the vehicle to do what is most important to him, a vision and dream that sees underprivileged kids getting mentored and resourced to also pursue their dreams. You see those who weren’t good enough picked to join in, and you see different colors coming together for a common purpose. Because he believes that through dedication, faith in God, and being prepared for opportunities everything is possible.