“The Indy 500 was all the rage on the radio,” he says. People talked about watching the race and having parties, but most people of colour, you know – the black folks – we didn’t go to the race. My family, we would listen to it and barbecue, but that was about it. You would see results on television, but I wanted to actually be there.
“Then, at 17 years old, I had an opportunity to become part of the, the Speedway’s ‘Yellow Shirts’ team, who would make sure people don’t hurt themselves and pick up the trash.
“It was a minimum wage job, but I took it gladly and got the chance to see my first 500. I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world – I was hooked.”
Fast-forward a few years and Reid was one of the only African-Americans working at an advertising firm in the city. As a result, any black clients were directed towards himself,.
“We had a client that was an oil company, a black-owned business here in Indianapolis,” Reid says. “The client called me one day and said, ‘We want you to review this request for sponsorship that we got from a racecar driver.’ His name was Charles Lloyd Wilson.
“I came back with my conclusion that it did not make financial sense for the company to sponsor this young man, unless the business owner wanted to do it personally – and he didn’t.
“And so I decided at that time that I would go help Charles look for money.”
Thus Reid and Wilson started on a journey, one which ultimately turn into a lifetime’s vocation.
“In 1984, we finally got some dollars to go racing, and Wilson did Formula Ford. From there, I was able to garner some money from Budweiser, we started a team and ran it in Super Vee.
“I managed that team. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to do the whole season, so we ran a partial season. I then raised some money to go to an IndyCar test.”
Reid and Wilson had scaled the U.S. motorsport ladder in an incredibly short space of time, with little to no experience and no support.
“I’m in my 20s and I’m learning about this industry without having any mentors or background,” Reid remembers. “Wilson and I both were just doing it from grassroots, so to speak – and he was a great driver.
“The part that became most meaningful to me was how we were woefully underfunded. Then we had the other layer of being unique – there just weren’t very many other blacks in the sport.”
Reid (second right) and three members of his Nexgeneracers school who have moved up to the Force Indy team
Memories of prejudice and discrimination are still stuck fast in Reid’s mind.
“When we were running Super V, we would go down to different events,” he says. “I might go to a stock car race or an IndyCar race and you got Confederate Flags being waved there. People looking at you like you’re crazy. You know: ‘Why are you here?’
“Black kids don’t know racing like they know basketball, baseball, football – it’s not in our culture.”
“You can’t deny the fact that motor sports had and to some degree [still] has a great deal of racism, and I would just say a lack of inclusion and underrepresentation.”
Despite being up against it, the money that the resourceful Reid was enough to get them to the Indycar test. However, the rapid rise was about to come to a shuddering halt.
“We took some money to a team to be prepared and practice for Indy in 1988.
“To get a licence to run in the car, you had to demonstrate your ability in front of an official. So we set a test up for him to come and observe.
“We literally got screwed,” he says. “The car was not prepared, two of the gears weren’t even working.
“First and fourth weren’t operating. All Wilson could do was just throw it in fifth and run around as best he could, and so we couldn’t officially get a license or official certificate to run the 500.
“The owner said ‘We’ll get you back out here soon.’ And that soon has never happened – to this day. We were never able to and we paid a lot of money.
You can still detect the pain of the experience in Reid’s voice now.
“I learned a lot of lessons. Number one, don’t pay up front for something you don’t get. And then number two, you know, you just start to sort of mistrust what folks do.”
So stung were the pair, they decided to leave motorsport altogether.
“Charles went to become an engineer for Amtrak and I built my design business. We still both went to races together [as spectators], but shied away from IndyCar because of the bad taste in our mouth because of that experience.”
Racing is often a lifetime’s addiction though, and after a decade out of the sport Reid and Wilson found themselves pulled back in – with a more benevolent mission.
“We said, ‘You know what, let’s use what we’ve learned in motorsports, and help teach kids.’
“We had both worked at Skip Barber racing school. He was an instructor and I did a one side promotion for them in the late ‘80s.
‘In 2000, we bought a stock car, with the idea that would get a young boy or girl and teach him [how to race it].
However, the same lack of interest in African-Americans taking on the racing world became apparent once more. Rather than deter the pair, this time it inspired them.
“We started and got in a young man in our stock car, we realized that there was still such a gap,” Reid recalls.
“Mainly because [black] kids don’t know racing like they know basketball, baseball, football – it’s not in our culture.
The racing team, therefore, morphed into a racing school.
“We started Nexgeneracers [NXG] – for the next generation of racers. Today, it’s focused on bringing kids of colour to motor sports using karting. We provide everything for an 11-year-old to come and learn how to drive a go kart.
“What we now have [at the school], it’s threefold: we tie into not only using karting as a life skill and motor skill development tool, but also as a STEM education application, then [leading to] access to [relevant] careers.
“Our whole impetus was to get IndyCar and the motor sports community into the black community.”
Nexgeneracers has since become a fixture at the Indianapolis Speedway, but it wasn’t always an easy partnership.
“We have been at the speedway for all those years, we use the parking lot for our race course. We would talk to the speedway about, ‘Hey, why don’t you have these kids shadow different teams and different folks in racing?’ And we got a lot of pushback throughout the years.”