Two South Florida women take big steps toward dreams by getting experience in NASCAR

Jul 23 2011 - 7:54pm

MIAMI -- No high school- or college-aged student wants the summer to end. Especially not Casey Haimes and Elizabeth Castilla-Miranda, who have spent the past seven weeks interning within NASCAR.

With the paid 10-week jobs coming to a close in early August, neither Castilla-Miranda nor Haimes is ready to wave the checkered flag on her summer.

"It has definitely been amazing. I can't even explain it," said Haimes, who went to Cypress Bay High in Weston and is majoring in hospitality management at the University of Central Florida, where she expects to graduate next year. "I've been interested in this program since my sophomore year of high school, so this has been a dream come true."

Said Castilla-Miranda, a 2007 graduate of Miami's John A. Ferguson High who recently earned her degree in management from Florida State: "I pretty much value this internship more than anybody can really even imagine. I didn't really think I would fall in love as much as I am. I'm in love with the sport, and I find it so fascinating."

Castilla-Miranda, 22, and Haimes, 21, were among the 18 students selected from roughly 300 applicants across the country for NASCAR's Diversity Internship Program.

Each year, the program places college students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds in hands-on summer jobs within NASCAR and its affiliated agencies, focusing on marketing, engineering, public relations, licensing, diversity and public affairs. To be eligible for the internship, students must be in good standing with their school and community and have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average.

"I really believe the internship is one of the best of its kind, if not the best of its kind, in sports," said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR vice president of public affairs and multicultural development. "It has been amazingly productive for NASCAR as a matchmaker between some of the best and brightest young potential employees in the country and potential employers, not only at NASCAR but across the industry, as well."

Jadotte, who graduated from Miami Coral City Senior High and Florida State, said roughly 25 percent of the program's interns receive full-time employment within the sports management and marketing business, the majority of which are in NASCAR.

Castilla-Miranda has worked in the public affairs department for International Speedway Corporation in Daytona Beach, where she has been responsible for hosting and working with elected officials at the company's hospitality suite for races and completing legislative research.

Castilla-Miranda was an auto racing fan in high school for a year but lost touch with the sport when she went to college. At Florida State, she assisted the football and basketball teams with recruiting as a member of the Garnett and Gold Guides. She applied for the internship to get further sports experience before heading off to law school, though those plans might be on hold: Castilla-Miranda recently interviewed for a job in ISC's events services department.

"I would love to stay with NASCAR, since I've fallen in love with the company and its ideals and mentality," Castilla-Miranda said. "Just getting to be a part of something so huge, I think that's what interests me the most. It may seem like something small, but in the grand scheme of things, these are huge events that thousands upon thousands of people go to."

Although Castilla-Miranda's passion for auto racing was fleeting at first, Haimes has known from a young age that she wanted to be involved in the motorsports industry. Growing up around her six-time world champion bike-racing father, Charlie, Haimes developed an enthusiasm for race operations and competition, and she always liked being involved in the action.

Interning with Octagon in Charlotte, N.C., Haimes has worked closely with the Sprint account, managing the weekly "Victory Lane at the Shop" program and boosting fan interaction at events with the mobile marketing team. With one year left of school, Haimes said she plans on reapplying for the program next summer, but she could arrange a fall internship at ISC and assist at weekend races.

"I have so much that I've enjoyed this summer, so much that I'm excited about," Haimes said. "If you love what you're doing, then you'll never work a day in your life. It's true. I love motorsports. That's where I want to be in the future."

And for Jadotte, that is the main message he wants to send to Miami-area youths, who are likely counting down the days of summer.

"If there's any one point, especially for kids who are in high school or college, it's that there are opportunities in professional sports that extend beyond those who are athletes," Jadotte said. "There are a great number of opportunities -- the vast majority of career options in professional sports -- (that) are not on the playing field or on the race track."

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