Original article by Dustin Walsh, Crain’s Detroit Business
BRAIN OLATUNJI – Vehicle integration attribute engineer, Ford Motor Co.; race car driver
• Why he lives in metro Detroit: “I view Detroit as the epicenter of opportunity in our country. Young people not only can but do make an impact in our city.”
• Claim to fame: Olatunji will star in a new reality show on Speed Network, following the careers of minorities trying to break into auto racing.
• Next step: To be a champion in the National Hot Rod Association circuit. Brian Olatunji spent weeks last winter in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula breaking test models of the Ford Focus Electric. He’s a validation engineer for the automaker. But that’s just his day job.
This summer, the Speed Network will follow Olatunji on his quest to become a professional race car driver. Olatunji and his agent pitched the show to the auto enthusiast television network before inking a contract for a 13-episode pilot season.
The show, “Dreams To Champions,” follows minorities trying to break into the sport of racing. The first season will follow Olatunji and an 18-year-old driver from Mexico.
“Racing all revolves around television, and I’m looking at building a brand for myself,” he said. “It’s going to be a lifestyle show centered on my drive to become a champion in racing.”
Speed’s crew is filming now, and episodes will begin airing in July.
Olatunji has been drag racing for 16 years across the heads-up doorslammer and funny car series. Olatunji’s sponsors include Pepsi Co., the U.S. Army and Lucas Oil Products Inc. Between his engineering job and his passion for driving, Olatunji also helps youths in Detroit.
He’s vice president of 100 Black Men of Greater Detroit. He created and led a Saturday college prep program at Henry Ford Health System for the organization.
He also led the organization’s Project Success program, which sought to increase graduation rates of male students from Southeastern
High School by 10 percent. The graduation rate of black males at the school was 38 percent before the program.
Randy Walker, vice president and chief diversity officer at Henry Ford, said Olatunji’s age and drive helps him relate to and push the youths he mentors.
“He’s the only person even close to the age of the people we work with, and every one of our young people look up to Brian,” he said. “He’s been present for every one of our Saturday programs, and he’s really helping these young people graduate and get ready for college. Brian is definitely a major catalyst.”
Olatunji also has his own nonprofit, the Leadfoot Foundation, which has provided scholarships and school supplies to area students for the past seven years. This year,
Olatunji will provide two $500 scholarships — one college scholarship to a student at King High School and one a student at his alma mater, Kettering University in Flint.