CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sam Belnavis, a champion of the drive for diversity within auto racing and a motorsports pioneer, died on Wednesday after a battle with Lewy Body Dementia. Belnavis was 81.
Belnavis entered the motorsports world during the 1970s when he worked in the sports marketing department for Miller Brewing Co., and signed Bobby Allison to a sponsorship contract. In 1983, Allison drove a Miller sponsored car to the NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Later in life Belnavis served as team owner and general manager before becoming chief diversity officer for Roush Fenway Racing.
He was also a key player with the North Carolina Motorsports Foundation.
Belnavis was also heavily involved in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.
The Belnavis Collective, NASCAR’s Black Employee Resource Group, is named after Mr. Belnavis and will continue to honor him through its mission and goals.
Upon news of Belnavis’ passing, NASCAR released this statement: “We are saddened by the passing of Sam Belnavis, a true pioneer in motorsports whose tireless work helped foster an inclusive environment throughout NASCAR. For more than 30 years, his efforts as a team owner and executive, as well as his work to support the launch of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program, helped introduce career opportunities in NASCAR to people of color. NASCAR offers its deepest condolences to Sam’s friends and family.”
A memorial service is planned on July 28 at McEwen Funeral Services at Sharon Memorial Park in Charlotte. Visitation is at 12:30 p.m. with services to follow at 1:30.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to 100 Black Men of Charlotte at 100blackmenofcharlotte.org.