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The first African-American to own a NASCAR racing team will link up with the organization again in an executive role for one of its most important foundations: The NASCAR STEM Initiative. As part of a larger education program called the Ten80 Student Racing Challenge, the NASCAR STEM Initiative uses its powerful name brand (and extremely potent dollars) to help students pursue scientific careers. Sam Belnavis, a little-known black business pioneer whose career is peppered with many impressive firsts, will use his extensive experience on the corporate side of racing to help the NASCAR STEM Initiative improve the job prospects of our nation’s youth. The Charlotte Observer has more on the next moves of this unsung motorsports legend:

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He was the first African American to own a NASCAR team; he was the first African American hired in a managerial position for Sears; he created his own advertising agency; he was appointed director of sports marketing for Miller Brewing Co., and he went on to be the chief diversity officer for Roush Fenway Racing.

Now, the Concord [,NC] resident is expanding his roles and tackling a new first as he accepts the chairman of the board position for the nonprofit organization Ten80 Student Racing Challenge: NASCAR STEM Initiative.

“All of those assignments, all of those opportunities for my career were firsts from an African-American perspective,” Belnavis said. “I look at Ten80 as another first in my career.”

Ten80 is a group of engineers, scientists, teachers and parents who aid students and teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers.

Belnavis left his mark on racing when he co-owned a team with Bill Cosby, and the pair raced the first African American driver, Willy T. Ribbs. The racer went on to become the first African American to race in the Indianapolis 500.

From the 500 to NASCAR, Belnavis then took the role of general manager and team owner of BelCar racing, where he introduced the National Guard to the sport and raced with Todd Bodine as his driver.

As the chairman of the board for the NASCAR STEM Initiative, Sam Belnavis will guide the organization as it exposes students grades six through twelve to careers in the science professions. As a well-known sports franchise, NASCAR uses the phrase “practice league” to describe the hands-on process of helping young people learn the math and technology skills necessary to enter the competitive fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Using NASCAR-related situations and models, these practice leagues help kids make the productive education choices that can lead to lucrative careers.

While the NASCAR STEM Initiative is not geared towards minority students specifically, it is certain that with a seasoned black leader like Sam Belnavis, the program will appeal to more African-American students than ever before. Historically, black Americans have missed out on STEM jobs, which are some of the most highly-paid, stable professions in the United States. If we are to reverse this trend, and develop a solution for the double-digit employment that continues to plague our community, promoting STEM careers among our youth is an important goal.

Sam Belnavis is taking the helm of the NASCAR STEM Initiative at the exactly right time for all our youth. Parents, teachers and students need to look into local chapters of this national organization, and get involved. This accomplished African-American man who defied all odds to achieve will inspire students of all colors to do their best.

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