NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – NASCAR may be predominantly white, predominantly male and most popular in southern states.
But the sport is becoming more diverse, thanks to a woman from Staten Island and her two sons.
They’re the focus of this week’s Snapshot New York with Steve Overmyer.
Dover International Speedway in Delaware is known as the “monster mile.” Its treacherous turns attract the best teams in the sport.
One team stands out.
“I don’t look like everybody else, and we have some proving to do, but we’re just as good,” said Melissa Harville-Lebron, owner of E2 Northeast Motorsports. They’re a developmental team in the camping world truck series: Breaking barriers, and making history.
“You’re the first woman of color to solely own a NASCAR team,” said Overmyer.
“Yep. All from the inspiration of my babies,” she said.
Her babies are Eric and Enico, age 23 and 22. One is in the military and the other runs a construction company. And babies usually aren’t adrenaline junkies.
“They jump out of planes, they bungee jump, they cliff dive. Everything that could possibly kill them and worry their poor mother to death, they want to do,” she said.
“What she doesn’t like is fun to us. You know mothers: Overly protective,” said Enico.
Melissa has built a reputation on fairness, something she learned during her 19-year career in the Department of Corrections.
“I actually enjoyed my time there. I knew I made a difference in my unit,” she said. “I ran a mental observation unit in Rikers Island.”
“Do you think the patience you learned at Rikers Island helped you here?” Overmyer asked.
“Absolutely,” she said, laughing. “It gave me thick skin. And when you’re creating change, and going against the norm, you definitely need to have thick skin.”
Melissa’s not afraid of breaking new ground, like when she created her own music label with a completely new idea: Split the profits with the artist 50/50. The business model built on fairness was successful enough to give her the financial freedom to feed her sons’ ambition – racing.
“I thought that bringing them to a NASCAR experience would discourage them. I want them to be in a safe profession. Be it a doctor or lawyer,” she said. “I was pushing Eric to become a dentist he’s like ‘Ma, that’s not my thing.'”
Their first time in a car, they impressed officials by clocking speeds of 150 miles an hour. So to help them live their dream, this mother got hooked, and self-financed a team.
“I love this sport. I’m a fan through and through. from the very first time I came to the track,” she said.
“I love the noise, the rush, the competition, the environment, the people.” Enico said. “It just makes my heart beat faster and faster.”
“The smell of the petrol is amazing,” said Eric. “I’m infatuated with this sport.”
“If you’ve never been, you have to come. It is a physical experience,” Melissa said. “And that rumble, you feel it in your gut. You’re like ooooh! And you’re waiting for the next one… come faster!”
That rush from watching her truck racing on this day was put on hold.
“You were unable to land sponsorship for this weekend’s race?” asked Overmyer.
“Yeah,” she said. “We were right there. We wish we would’ve had another day or two and we would have been able to bring it through, but it’s OK.”
“There’s not a lot of minorities in this sport, and we can definitely influence other people to join as well,” said Eric. “I think it starts with the younger demographics, because that’s the next superstars. And I think it would be awesome for the sport to see a lot of diversity.”
They may be new to this world, but this is their chance to bring racing to a new audience.
“When you see someone like yourself doing something out of the norm it inspires others,” she said.
“The paths aren’t the ones that have been blazed in front of you,” Overmyer said. “You’ve got to create them.”
“And nobody’s going to do it for you,” she said.
“This isn’t a story about racing. It’s about a mother’s love for her sons,” Overmyer said.
“That’s right. you’re gonna make me cry,” she said. “It’s so difficult being a single mom and coming from the background I came from. We came from nothing… I’m not supposed to be here. And I had to push against the odds to show people we belong. We may have to work a little harder, but we’re gonna make our mark here.”