Sam Belnavis

American auto racing executive (1939–2021)

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Sam Belnavis
Born August 8, 1939

Died July 14, 2021(2021-07-14) (aged 81)
Nationality American
Occupation Roush Fenway Racing Driver Diversity head
Known for 1st African American premier series NASCAR owner to complete a full season

Sam Belnavis (August 8, 1939 – July 14, 2021) was an American executive in automobile racing. Belnavis, an African-American, was one of a handful minorities to have owned a NASCAR racing team. He was the head of Roush Fenway Racing‘s driver diversity program, and handled other marketing initiatives for that company.[1]

Education and military service[edit]

As a child, Belnavis attended Our Lady of Victory, an all-black parochial school in Brooklyn, New York. He then attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, with primarily white students, a very different experience.[2] Belnavis subsequently attended Manhattan College in New York, graduating with a degree in accounting in 1961,[3] later earning a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Michigan.[4] He was in Air Force ROTC in Manhattan College,[2] and served in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot in the 105th Tactical Fighter Wing, located at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.[5]


After leaving the Air Force, Belnavis took a management position at Sears in 1968.[4] From there, he became a director of sports marketing for Miller Brewing. In 1981, while in that job, he signed Bobby Allison to a sponsorship contract.[5] After working at Miller, Belnavis was hired by DiGard Racing; part of his duties were to push a program to diversify DiGard Racing with an African-American driver.[6]

After DiGard, Belnavis took a position as senior vice-president of sports and entertainment with Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. In 1991 he relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he founded his own advertising and marketing agency, Belnavis & Associates.[4][5]

Belnavis became NASCAR’s first full-time minority owner since Wendell Scott in 2003,[2] when he fielded BelCar Motorsports‘ #54 U.S. National Guard Ford Motor Company entry driven by Todd Bodine.[7] He quit BelCar Racing at the conclusion of the season, but continued to serve in lower-level NASCAR leagues through the Drive for Diversity program.[8] It went on to field entries including Morty Buckes, Brianne Conrath, and Jesus Hernandez.[9][10] Belnavis later joined Roush Racing as its director of diversity programs.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Belnavis and his wife Christine had one son, three daughters, and seven grandchildren.[4] He died on July 14, 2021, at the age of 81.[8][12]


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  1. ^ .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit;word-wrap:break-word}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation:target{background-color:rgba(0,127,255,0.133)}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a,.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#2C882D;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F} .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){ .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F}}“Roush Racing Sales Executive Team”. Roush Fenway Racing. Archived from the original on October 18, 2006. Retrieved January 1, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c “African-American History Month event features first black NASCAR owner”. U.S. Army. Archived from the original on March 6, 2005. Retrieved January 2, 2008.
  3. ^ “Jasper Jottings 2003-07-13”. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d “Samuel Belnavis” Archived August 31, 2004, at the Wayback Machine, bio, Speedway Children’s Charities, retrieved January 2, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c Lemasters Jr., Ron (February 16, 2005). “Belnavis, Ribbs leaving their mark on landscape”. Retrieved January 1, 2008.
  6. ^ “DiGard Racing Company History”, retrieved January 2, 2008.
  7. ^ “Sam Belnavis and Travis Carter Join Forces For 2003” Archived May 25, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Ford Motor Company, press release, retrieved January 2, 2008.
  8. ^ a b Taranto, Steven (July 15, 2021). “Sam Belnavis, NASCAR ‘s first full-time minority car owner and diversity pioneer, dies at 81”. CBS Sports. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  9. ^ “Marlin says new Ganassi deal his wish”. ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures. Associated Press. March 12, 2005. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  10. ^ Bernstein, Viv (November 8, 2006). “Nascar’s Drive for Diversity Is Producing Mixed Signals”. The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  11. ^ “Minority-owned NASCAR team closes”. USA Today. December 18, 2003. Retrieved January 1, 2008.
  12. ^ “Sam Belnavis, motorsports pioneer and leader in NASCAR diversity efforts, dies”. NASCAR. July 15, 2021. Retrieved July 15, 2021.

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