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Diversity at Phoenix International Raceway shows a different image of Arizona

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The week of February 23, there were protests in front of the State Capitol, deriding late night jokes, and fear among hospitality leaders, until Wednesday, when Arizona Governor Brewer vetoed State Bill 1062. But on Thursday, the sun came out as NASCAR returned to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) in Avondale. The following weekend reflected the beautiful diversity of the people in Arizona, and demonstrated how we can all get along.

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Bryan Sperber, CEO of PIR, is one of the leading advocates for fostering emerging markets in NASCAR. PIR courts diverse vendors, spectators, drivers and crews. PIR hosted the opening of NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series for the second time. Daniel Suárez, a 22-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, and member of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity (a program to develop drivers), won the race.

At Sunday’s Profit on CNBC 500 Race, most of the US only saw the excitement of Kevin Harvick winning his second consecutive Sprint cup race at PIR. But few know that two NASCAR weekends generate almost $500 million for Arizona, or see the variety of jobs or people involved.

There are many people behind the camera. Fernando Cruz, of Berea Vision TV, has been a sports reporter for 10 years. He grew up in Mexico, only seeing racing on television. The fact that now he can “touch the cars through my camera is a dream come true.” He would like to see more Mexican drivers compete in America and vice versa.

Media people were awed to hear AJ Foyt talk about winning the first race at PIR in 1964. On the other hand, Charlotte resident Bryan Pittman of Champion Tire & Wheel, serving on a pit crew for the first time, represents the changing face of motorsports.

Local residents worked or volunteered during the race. Charles Carter, who usually works at Larry Miller Nissan, was volunteering for one of the ministries, staffing a concession. Nearby, long-timers David Carlton (10 years) and Garry Long (six years), checking IDs at the media center, loved watching the fans.

The local and visiting PIR fans are colorful and fun-loving. Rusty and Lorrie Henderson, from Tucson, got their photo taken with the Sprint Cup. Ohio fan Brian Lattimer, traded barbs with photographer and Michigan State fan Hassan Kareem. Robin Peterson, from Oregon for the fourth year, showed off her lucky coin, which worked for Kyle again on Friday.

As Phoenix favorite, Jesse McGuire, played the national anthem on his trumpet, one could feel proud of what is right about Arizona.