Shawne Merriman & Greg Jennings talk diversity in NASCAR and K&N ownership

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Shawne Merriman and Greg Jennings stop by 'NASCAR Race Hub' to talk about the youth movement, diversity in NASCAR, and Shawne's K&N team.

- Two of our friends are joining us now. Fox Sports NFL analyst and Super Bowl champ Greg Jennings, and three-time Pro Bowler Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman. By the way. Larry got out of here because he knew what your nickname was.

- Yeah, he took off. I'd never seen-- he should have been in the combine, and run in the combine as fast as he got out of here.

- Yeah, that may [INAUDIBLE].

- And I got to sit beside you. That's why I've been really nice today.


- I noticed you raised your chair when I came over here.

- Yeah. [LAUGHS]

- Hey, Greg, we know Shawne has been to some NASCAR races and has some involvement in racing. I know you just said you're buddies with Kyle Busch, and he's been trying to get you to a race, huh?

- I got to get to a race. I told Kyle that I will get to ra-- this is a couple years. And I still yet--

- Taken you so long!

- You know, I need guys like Shawne to fill me in on what I'm missing out on.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: See, that's the thing. You got to sell him, because watching on TV, like, we talk about it and it's fun. But when you get to a race, it just-- it changes everything. And it's a curse after because you can't leave. You're going to keep going back and over and over again. So I'll get him out to a track.

- But you got a front row seat, because you're not just involved as a fan. You were Grand Marshal a few years ago at Auto Club Speedway. You own a K&N West team. That's incredible to me.

- Yeah. You know what? For me, outside of being an adrenaline junkie, you love the sport. You know I have a great drive. And Jesse Iwuji, he's just a great person all the way around. But once you get to a track, you're going to be like me. You won't be able to leave, that's the problem.

SHANNON SPAKE: Have you driven at all?

- No. I do--

LARRY MCREYNOLDS: [LAUGHS] You answered that quick.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: I do everything outside of the car.

GREG JENNINGS: That's a smart man right there.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: I do everything outside of the car.

SHANNON SPAKE: Everything outside of the car. So how is Jesse doing right now? How's that going, the K&N stuff?

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: He's great, he's great. He has a race come up in Bakersfield I think this weekend.

SHANNON SPAKE: Kevin Harvick's from Bakersfield.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: Kevin Harvick, which-- shout out to Kevin Harvick, because he is showing these young guys-- I know you want the sport to grow, but he is talking smack, he's raising everybody's game. He's doing exactly what he needs to do for the sport.

But here's, you know, Jesse and I at the track. And we're really having fun. We're growing a great team here. We're trying to move up in the ladder, and he's out there competing. We're having a blast.

- You talked about what Kevin Harvick is doing in the sport right now. And we do have this nice balance of youth and experience in the NASCAR world. You played 10 years in the NFL. So as you start growing on the end, the competitive juices start going even more as the youngsters start making their way and trying to take the work away from you?

- They do. And here's the thing. In sport, across the board, what tends to happen is the older you get, it's like you're expected to sustain the level of success. But you're also expected to nurture the young success.

And that can be problematic. Because it's like, you want to make sure that people respect you for what you've done, but what you can still do.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: Yeah, you get on the opposite side of the 30. Especially in football, we know, when you get past 30, you a dinosaur walking the locker room. So now the coaches and everyone wants you to come in and be a role model. They want you to come in--


SHAWNE MERRIMAN: --and be guidance to the youth. But Kevin Harvick is basically saying, man, I'm done. I've got three in a row and I'm going for four. That's what I like about this sport. That's why I like what he's doing right now, and big shout out to him.

- It's so great, just bringing children to the racetrack and letting them see that there's so much more outside of the towns that they live in. I think that's the biggest thing. I remember growing up, you didn't realize how much more was outside of the streets that you grew up on. How-- what do they-- what is their response when they go to NASCAR races?

- You know, it's incredible. Greg and I, we talked in the back, and we-- growing up in inner cities, not having the opportunity-- or the knowledge, even-- how to get to the track.

My son is seven years old, he plays hockey. We would never have a hockey rink where we were. We would never be able to go to a NASCAR race.

And I would say about 85% of people I've ever brought to a NASCAR track become fans. Because that's how the sport is. It's exciting.


SHAWNE MERRIMAN: I'm working on him next. He's going to be my written proof, and I want him to--

GREG JENNINGS: Absolutely. I'm for it.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: [INAUDIBLE] how much fun he's going have at the next track.

LARRY MCREYNOLDS: You said, when we were watching the piece, that that's awesome. What is your reaction when you see kids getting experience that they otherwise would not have gotten?

- It's amazing. It's all about exposure. Shawne, again, as he alluded to, we talked about it. I wasn't exposed not only to racing, but seeing it. Like, it being talked about around me.

So there was never an interest that was piqued. But when you're exposed to something, you have an opportunity to now embrace what is new, what you may not know. And that's exciting. And it can be thrill-seeking, and I'm looking for it. The next time I'm on--

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: We making this happen. This is happening.

GREG JENNINGS: Next time I'm on, I'm going to be able to say I've been to a race.

SHANNON SPAKE: Shawne, I look at the picture of you with the kids, and the thing that stands out to me is the diversity. It's African-Americans, it's women, it's girls, it's Hispanics. And when you have-- for a long time, women did not have anyone to relate to in NASCAR, and Danica came along. We have Daniel Suarez, we have Aric Almirola, who are from Cuba and Mexico. For Bubba Wallace, for some of the young kids, how do they relate to him?

- It was amazing, because you watch a sport and you're there at the track, but now you have Bubba Wallace just finished second in Daytona out the gate. You have a big stage, big track, everyone watching. And now, growing up as a minority in a inner city, you're like, oh, my god. I can go-- I can do this. I can be a NASCAR driver one day.

Where that opportunity wasn't there before. It didn't even cross your mind, because you wasn't exposed to it, like Greg just said. You weren't exposed to it.

How do I-- OK, guess what, Bubba Wallace. You have a Jesse Iwuji. You have more guys-- more minorities in the sport.

And I think, to me, it's all about opportunity. You give somebody the right opportunity to come up in this great sport, it's amazing.

GREG JENNINGS: One of the things that I picked up on when you were talking in the piece was, it's not just about the diversity in the car. And I think a lot of times in sport, but specifically NASCAR, you want to be the one behind the car. But there are so many different--


- --moving parts that make the person in the car who they are, and it allows them to experience the level of success that that's where we need to have our focus, is everywhere around the sport.

SHAWNE MERRIMAN: And when those engines start up, it feels like you're running out to a stadium. It feels like you run out to a stadium full of 70,000 people when those things start out. So that's why we got to make--

- Former athletes too. Over the wall, guys. Former college football players, former college basketball players, that there's tons of athletes that, like you said, can't go into the NFL or NBA, that are doing it in racing.

- Well, you know, three weeks ago we had the Daytona 500. Kevin Harvick comes on our show. Austin Dillon wins the Great American Race in the 3 car made famous by Dale Earnhardt. And in our studio, Harvick said, bigger than Dillon winning was Bubba Wallace finishing second when you talk about the opportunities to grow the sport.

- Yeah, and especially for him, he's having his first year of full racing. Richard Petty and that team, they came and supported what they wanted to do. And that kind of showed the initiative that that team wanted to do especially.

But now he's having his first time-- Bubba's having his first time to get out there, and he has that amount of support. And you come out and you start this season that way with the biggest eyeballs. I mean, Daytona, that's a Super Bowl. That's a Super Bowl in how they start the season.

And you go out and outperform the way he did. It's no longer the imagination. It's, I can really do this. I can get back in this sport. I can start at a young age, and I have the opportunity to be a NASCAR driver. Or being in sport in general.

- I-- again, I'm not a big NASCAR guy. But when I saw Bubba Wallace Jr. finished second, it did pique my interest. And that's how you grow a sport. When you can relate and see someone that looks like you, and they're doing it, it creates this thought in your mind that, wow, I could do that? I fit in. Absolutely, absolutely.

- So how long are you in Los Angeles?

- I'm here all week.

- Well, we're going to be in Fontana.

LARRY MCREYNOLDS: Just right down the road.



- I'll be there. We'll be at Fontana.

- Hour drive.

- Let's do it.

- She sets me up on live TV all the time, Greg.

- That was good. Shannon, I like that. I like that.

- Now, that's how you sell.

- We can get you out there. We can get out there. Guys, thanks for coming and hanging out with us. I know we'll see you at--

- [INAUDIBLE] this weekend.

- This weekend.

- This weekend.

- Cool. Awesome. We'll see you there. Thanks, guys.