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Examining the claim of the first black woman to 'solely own' a NASCAR team


Can you be a NASCAR owner if you’ve never fielded an entry in a NASCAR race?

CBS News recently ran a story about Melissa Harville-Lebron’s journey towards competing in NASCAR. In it, Harville-Lebron is touted as the first African-American woman to “solely” own a NASCAR team. The piece was filmed at Dover in May, where Harville-Lebron and her two sons are wearing shirts with the name of her race team, E2 Northeast Motorsports.

E2 was not competing during the Truck Series race being run that day at Dover. In fact, E2 Northeast Motorsports has never run a NASCAR race at all. Harville-Lebron has her NASCAR owner’s license and has the rights to the No. 06 in the Camping World Truck Series. But her team hasn’t qualified for a race, let alone attempted one. Does simply having an owner’s license make you a NASCAR team owner or do you have to enter a race to claim that designation?

“I would say they run in conjunction,” Harville-Lebron told Yahoo Sports. “First of all I got approved by NASCAR for my license. I didn’t just open a Crackerjack box and get it. I got approved for my license. And from there — my team is incorporated, my team has been incorporated. I purchased equipment. I started to put a team together with personnel. The only thing that has not occurred yet is for me to have an official race entry in under my name. Which is where we are moving to today.”

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The E2 Northeast Motorsports name first surfaced in the Truck Series earlier this season at Daytona. As she was looking to break into NASCAR, Harville-Lebron partnered with D.J. Copp and Copp Motorsports’ No. 83 truck for the race. The arrangement saw Copp Motorsports field the truck with E2’s name splashed all over the truck officially owned by Copp. Scott Stenzel drove it to a 15th-place finish.

Harville-Lebron and Copp haven’t worked together since.

“We had conversations, they haven’t materialized,” Harville-Lebron said. “I would love to continue working with him but it takes capital to do that.”

The two parties were introduced to each other before the beginning of the 2018 season. Copp was planning on fielding his No. 83 truck for the whole season and saw the opportunity to partner with Harville-Lebron as a way to potentially boost the performance of his low-budget team.

“I would love to continue my relationship with Copp Motorsports,” Harville-Lebron said. “I think we had a wonderful chemistry.”

Copp, a former Cup Series pit crew member, said that capital Harville-Lebron referenced was pledged to him via a letter of intent for a three-race deal for the 2018 season and even had the potential for bigger things.

“As an individual I’m willing to work with anyone,” Copp told Yahoo Sports. “I truly love providing opportunities to people whether it just be from a fan gaining access to the racetrack to helping people understand the business side of motorsports. However, there’s a process that when people trust in me to help show them the way, they have to follow the process. And unfortunately, this sport is driven by finances. It’s not about intent. It’s not about hopes and wants. It’s about upfront commitment financially. And that’s the same about any business that you’re opening — there’s upfront financial costs. I feel misled from our initial conversations of whether the funding was there or not.

“I was under the impression the funding was there. And Daytona went like clockwork like it should. But it fell apart real quickly and very abruptly and in a way that was not copacetic.”

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Stories and interviews regarding Harville-Lebron’s possession of a NASCAR owner’s license picked up steam after Daytona, where a Black Enterprise piece made the same sole ownership claim the CBS piece did. But they also date back as far as 2015, when an interview with the Huffington Post states she’s the first African-American female owner in NASCAR.

A 2016 story by a local news outlet in Charlotte states that Harville-Lebron is the first black woman to have a NASCAR owner’s license and that her team would make its Truck Series debut in 2016 at Dover.

It did not. Had it, Harville-Lebron’s team would have entered the sport six years after Rev Racing, which is owned by former Dale Earnhardt Inc. president Max Siegel and his wife Jennifer Satterfield Siegel, both African American. The Siegels have fielded cars in NASCAR’s K&N Series since 2010 for drivers such as Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez and it appears their co-ownership has led to the claim that Harville-Lebron is the first “sole” African American female owner licensed by NASCAR.

That’s still a tricky boast. NASCAR has not always kept track of the demographics of those who apply for owner licenses. There’s no way for the sport to confirm a claim of that nature and Harville-Lebron said her license application did not ask for her demographic data.

Besides, she has never fielded a team on her own at any NASCAR level. In the CBS story she said her team wasn’t competing at Dover because of a lack of sponsorship.

Harville-Lebron told Yahoo Sports that she has two trucks housed at a shop in Dallas, Georgia. She’s told other outlets the same, including to Spectrum’s Charlotte affiliate in 2016.

Copp disagreed with that claim.

“She does not have any NASCAR Camping World Truck Series trucks. She does not have any cars that would be able to be legal to run in the top three series of NASCAR. She may have a late model truck that’s run at the local Hickory Motor Speedway or Thompson, Connecticut Speedway. She may have a late model or a street stock or something like that but she does not have any vehicles that, to my knowledge, would be capable of running in one of NASCAR’s top three series.”

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On the surface, it made sense for Harville-Lebron to team with Copp at Daytona. She’s made no secret of her lack of a NASCAR background in multiple interviews and has said she got into the sport because her sons got hooked on it after doing a driving experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“D.J. is the owner of the No. 83,” Harville-Lebron said. “My race number is the 06. That is the team I was assigned … Operation-wise, it made more sense to run with someone that has the knowledge.”

NASCAR confirmed that Harville-Lebron was assigned the No. 06 when her application was approved.

She told Yahoo Sports her sons, Eric and Enico — featured prominently in the CBS report — are training to be drivers but have not competed in a race yet.

“The mother in me is not going to let them get out on the track until I feel and their trainers feel that they’re ready to go,” Harville-Lebron said. “Their trainers say they’re ready to go but the opportunity really hasn’t presented itself.”

According to Copp, the opportunity for Harville-Lebron to own a Truck team herself could have presented itself after Daytona after she transitioned into the business side of Truck racing. He said the two parties discussed the possibility of Harville-Lebron purchasing his team’s equipment so she could field a team under her own name.

After presenting Harville-Lebron with an asset list, Copp said the deal started to fall apart. A spokesperson for Harville-Lebron said a deal was discussed but never agreed to.

Copp said the potential for a deal was so promising that he made changes to his original plan for the second race of the season at Atlanta. Driver Akinori Ogata was moved to the No. 63 Mittler Brothers truck because Stenzel would be driving the No. 83 truck again with E2 Northeast Motorsports branding on it.

That capital, Copp said, didn’t come through as the team removed the E2 decals off the truck before the race. Ogata finished 30th and only completed 62 laps. Stenzel’s truck didn’t turn a single lap and finished last. The race was a financial nightmare.

“I lost the revenue, not only from a start-and-park because I moved from a two-car program, but I also lost the rental revenue from Ogata because I put faith in her fulfilling her commitment on the finances that I thought were there only to find out that they weren’t,” Copp said. “So that Atlanta race cost me about $60,000.”

Despite that, Copp said he’s willing to work with Harville-Lebron again if she wants to continue to try to get a truck on the track that solely has her name on it.

“Would I work with Melissa again? Yes, but it would have to be 100 percent on my terms and she would have to make right what I feel she did wrong previously,” Copp said.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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