Driving for diversity: The NASCAR racers breaking boundaries

    (CNN)Winning is everything, and for some it means making history.

    In America's biggest motorsport, women and ethnic minorities are smashing barriers in their pursuit of NASCAR glory -- traditionally dominated by white men behind the wheel.
    Female driver Kenzie Ruston and African-American driver Dylan Smith were selected to join Rev Racing's Drive for Diversity (D4D) team, which gives talented drivers from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to compete.

      'I've beaten a lot of guys driving like a girl'

      Ruston is nothing short of competitive -- and the Oklahoma-born 23-year-old has to be if she wants to make it big in a high-octane sport that sees racers battle it out on oval tracks for hours at a time in front of delirious fans.
      While Danica Patrick is one of the most famous female drivers on the circuit -- winning a historic pole position in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- no woman has ever won an official NASCAR race. All the more motivation for Ruston.
      "I think there's like 40 women that have come up through the NASCAR ranks. None of us have ever won a race yet but it's going to happen pretty soon," Ruston told CNN.
      "It's going to be a woman someday and I just hope it's me."
      Ruston grew up around racing, spending her summer weekends scraping mud off her step grandfather's car -- he was also an avid racer.
      "He's passed now, but he was definitely a huge inspiration, a huge supporter. Every time at the race track, even if I came second he'd say, 'Why didn't you win?' He was really funny -- that was the only question, every weekend."
      Several years and a bunch of records later, Ruston is making waves in North Carolina after being selected for Rev Racing's 2015 Drive for Diversity team.
      The program provides training, support and equipment, giving a boost to drivers like Ruston who don't always fit the traditional NASCAR image.
      "I mean it's basically white males in this sport, there's not many females, there's not many Hispanics, there's not many African-Americans, so I think it's really cool what they're trying to accomplish," Ruston explained.
      "Being a woman is still hard these days, I mean a lot of men think women shouldn't do a lot of things. If someone says you can't do it, use that fight to keep going. Any time someone says you can't do it that should just give you even more desire to achieve it."
      Ruston is eager to prove that girls can be just as successful as guys in racing, and is a huge fan of the viral "Like A Girl" video by feminine hygiene company Always, explaining how it inspires her to race harder.
      "I watch it all the time, I still watch it all the time. It puts fire underneath me, like yeah I'm going to show these guys that being a girl is not a bad thing."
      Last year Ruston became the highest finishing female in the K&N Pro Series East when she finished second at the Iowa Speedway for Ben Kennedy Racing. In the first race of this season she came 10th out of 29 drivers.

      'Black Mamba'

      Dylan Smith is another driver who wants to prove himself in NASCAR, having finally made the D4D team after six years of trying.
      His dad originally wanted him to be a golfer but the 22-year-old found driving 3,300-pound cars at high speeds slightly more to his taste.
      Nicknamed "Black Mamba," Smith competes in a Late Model Stock Car in the Whelen All American Series. He finished eighth in his first race this season.
      Easily recognized by his '80s high-top haircut and warm infectious personality, as a young black man Smith strives to be a leader for others.
      "There are people of different ethnicities in NASCAR, you just don't see them at the forefront, so now it's time to get some traction," Smith told CNN.
      When asked if he'd ever experienced racism on the track the answer was a resounding no.
      "I think it's funny that people associate NASCAR so much with racism," he said. "I think there's less of it in NASCAR than people really know. There's a lot of fans that pull for me and pull for other drivers of different ethnicities and genders, and it's truly awesome to see that.
      "I've got into altercations with people on the track but I've never thought for one minute that it was because of the color of my skin."
      Things have progressed from when Smith's hero Wendell Scott was racing in the '50s and '60s.
      The first African-American to win a race in the Grand National Series, Scott was a pioneer for black drivers, pursuing greatness in the face of death threats, sabotage from other drivers, and officials who initially awarded a win to a white driver two laps behind.
      This year he was posthumously inducted to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, cementing his reputation as a barrier-breaking driver.
      "Without him going through everything he went through, I'm not 100% sure I'd be in the situation I am in with Rev Racing," Smith said of Scott.
      "If he can push through, and get through all the negativity and junk that he went through then with all the support that I have I absolutely think that I can make it too."
      Now the legacy continues as drivers like Ruston and Smith make their mark on the track -- not only for themselves, but to inspire generations to come.
      "This is what the sport needs to bring more fans in, this is what NASCAR needs -- a variety of people," said Ruston.