Native NASCAR owner says, 'I want to inspire the kids on the reservation'

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

GALLUP, October 25, 2012

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David S. Melton

A s a child, Sacred Power Corp. President and CEO David S. Melton dreamed of becoming an airplane pilot.

But Melton, who is half Laguna Pueblo and half Anglo, learned while attending college that he had passed the minimum age limit of 25 years to enter pilot school.

So instead of wasting time mourning his lost dream, he picked up another one – being a racecar driver – while working on his solar business dream, which generated $7.5 million in revenues last year.

The 2012 projected revenues are $10 million for Melton's 11-year-old solar business, located in Albuquerque.

Melton, who was the keynote speaker at the second annual Rural Entrepreneur Institute Expo at the University of New Mexico-Gallup on Oct. 12, peppered his story of success with strong encouragement to the students to step out of the box.

He recalled attending a National Indian Gaming Association conference trade show where he had a booth to sell solar power. Also at the trade show was a National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing truck, which of course caught Melton's attention.

He immediately dropped what he was doing and headed to the NASCAR truck, where he struck up a conversation with racecar driver A.J. Russell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and Rich Kuty.

Kuty and Russell were looking for sponsors.

Melton figured that becoming a sponsor would probably get him as close to his dream of being a racecar driver. He also envisioned another dream – having a Native American owned business logo on a NASCAR truck.

But that dream was floored when Kuty told that it take $50,000 for the Sacred Power logo to appear on the truck for only one of the 56 NASCAR races.

Melton laughed as he remembered how he tried to be nonchalant despite being shocked by the $50,000.

"It was a nice dream to get into NASCAR," he remembered thinking.

But he didn't stop dreaming and he didn't stop going to NASCAR races, where he built a relationship with Kuty and Russell.

It took a couple of years, but one day Kuty accepted Melton's offer to put the Sacred Power logo on his racing team's truck for five NASCAR races in exchange for the installation of solar panels on Frankie Stoddard's home. Stoddard was the crew chief for the racing team.

Melton excitedly recalled the first day that his logo was on Kuty's truck, which allowed him as a sponsor to be in the pit stop, where he saw race car drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. on one side of their pit and Jeff Burton on the other side.

Earnhardt Jr. is considered one of the most popular sports figures. Race fans have voted him NASCAR's Most Popular Driver nine years in a row.

He said it was pretty exciting being in the NASCAR world but he wanted something more, which was to actually have NASCAR team with Native owners, Native drivers and Native sponsors.

On Sept. 24, 2011, Sacred Power Motorsport made its racing debut with Russell as its driver.

And SPM was billed as the first top level Native American owned NASCAR team that featured a Native American driver. Their sponsors were tribal casinos and other businesses that did or wanted to do business with tribal casinos.

"That's about putting a stake in the ground," Melton said with a huge smile. "We're not shy; we'll jump in there."

And Melton is not shy. He's now using SPM to meet billionaires, who are race sponsors, at the racetrack and sell them solar energy.

But more importantly Melton said he's using SPM to motivate Native American youth, especially troubled youth.

"I want to inspire the kids on the reservation," he said. "Our young people are doing away with themselves because they feel hopeless. I want to inspire them and I'm doing that by taking them into the race pits and introducing them to drivers."

And whenever possible, Melton takes his race vehicles to the youth at their schools and conferences or they come meet him and his racing team at Sacred Power in Albuquerque.

"There's a path to your dream," he said. "But you have to ask questions. And always wear clean clothes because you don't know who you'll meet. And don't wait because some careers are age-driven."

Melton recalled his disappointment after learning that he had passed the age to become an airplane pilot.

"I was disappointed," he said. "And now I've made it my job to help prevent that same disappointment for our young people by bringing something as massive, expensive and intensive as racing to the reservation.