Ever drive on the open road and have an idea take hold? The kind that starts out simple but grows over the miles? That’s how it started for 57-year-old Wesley Brown.
“Growing up in Queens, I got that need for speed when I was 8 years old, and my brothers got me into working on hot rods and drag racing,” he recalls. Street racing was common everywhere, not just in and around South Jamaica—then the third largest Black community in New York. Crime surged there in the 1970s, however, and after high school, Brown moved to Florida to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as an Air Force ROTC student, where he graduated as an aircraft mechanic.
“I worked at airports doing mechanical work, loading and unloading planes,” he says. “I got my CDL in 1985 and drove airfreight for Pan Am and TWA until they went out of business. Then I started driving a Freightliner for myself.”
When he wasn’t driving, Brown dabbled in racing. One team he worked with took him to a Super Vee race in Ohio. It was there he noticed only one minority on Michael Andretti’s pit crew. That stuck with Brown.
Brown realized he wanted to be a mentor and involve local kids in motorsports who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.
The notion germinated into the nonprofit Minority Racing Association, launched in 2016 inside a small Port Orange, Florida, garage. Paying out of pocket for MRA’s start-up expenses, Brown’s dream came together slowly.
Brandon Hammond was an early beneficiary of the program, and in 2018, he and a small group of teens helped Brown rebuild a 2005 Mustang GT, which MRA hoped to race one day at nearby Daytona.
“The word ‘minority’ doesn’t mean the program is just for people of color,” says Hammond, adding that MRA welcomes kids with autism, ADHD, and all kinds of socioeconomic problems that might distract them from school. “The point is to get minors into cars—any age, race, or color. Here they can learn skills and have all kinds of opportunities, all at no cost.”
As a part of the MRA pit crew, Hammond helped the team compete in April 2022 at the 10th Annual Daytona 14-Hour Enduro at Daytona Beach International Speedway. The MRA Mustang placed sixth in class and 43rd overall out of 90 cars.
“I always had a natural ability with a wrench, but access to the program helped me flourish into something more,” says Hammond. Graduating from Daytona State College in 2022 with a degree in automotive service technology, he became the MRA’s second graduate. The experience helped him jump directly into a career working for a local Chevrolet dealer.
Brown believes his purpose is to use MRA as a vehicle to help kids “not in the majority.” But his mission is bigger than that. “MRA helps kids from falling through the cracks. It teaches them social skills and teamwork and gives them confidence and a foundation to believe they can be and do anything they want.”