"I had a hard time imagining what was so great about zoom, zoom, zoom. But once you get to the track, you start cheering . . . and wondering where the minds of the drivers are."

-- Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who along with her husband, Bob, announced plans for a NASCAR Winston Cup racing team

Jesse Jackson's push for greater minority inclusion in professional American sports got a boost yesterday as leaders from two top car racing organizations, NASCAR and CART, agreed to work for better diversity in $5 billion-a-year industry.

Meanwhile, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and her husband, Bob, announced the formation of Joyner-Kersee Racing, a joint partnership with Kurt Roehrig and Roehrig Motorsports. The team plans to compete in the Winston Cup series next season.

Should they succeed, the Kersees would become the first black owners to enter a car on NASCAR's top circuit since Wendell Scott in the 1960s and 1970s.

Bob Kersee will run the coaching and planning part of the business while his wife, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, will be in charge of marketing and trying to find a sponsor.

"NASCAR's goal and my job are to increase the number of racing enthusiasts to the broadest possible audience," said Brian France, senior vice president of NASCAR, the sanctioning body for stock car racing, one of the nation's fastest-growing sports.

France said his organization would begin a diversity management council within its group to help address the needs of minority race drivers, mechanics and support staff who say they have been overlooked by the white race structure for decades.

France spoke at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, site of the Sports in the New Millennium conference, sponsored by Jackson's Rainbow-PUSH organization, which is intended to increase minority participation in the business end of sports.

France said his group would also start an internship program with historically black colleges and universities to increase its outreach.

Andrew Craig, chairman and CEO of the CART IndyCar racing organization, said his group will begin work with a black North Carolina racing team to build a training program that will identify three black drivers to drive and train under CART experts and sponsors.

The selected drivers will get written evaluations but won't be guaranteed a ride in CART events.

"It's a social issue. It's just the right thing to do. We want the sport to represent America," Craig said.

Some in the audience said they weren't impressed by the announcements and said more should be done to bring blacks into motorsports. France and Craig said their organization's actions are limited because, as sanctioning bodies, they can't tell sponsors whom to put behind the wheel or repair the race cars.

"We can't create a race team for anybody," France said. "But we can provide access to mentors and people who know the sport."

While car racing is enjoying its greatest popularity nationally in the grandstands and in television ratings, blacks have felt locked out of the sport.

"I think it's a matter of exposure. We, like most people, like cars. But when it comes to racing them, it's almost like hockey. We just don't take to it," said Ron Waters, president of the Quartermasters Drag Racing Team, an integrated racing outfit based in Capitol Heights.

Special Olympics

Athlete Dies in Sleep

A 14-year-old Special Olympian from Egypt died in his sleep early yesterday, probably from an epileptic seizure, officials of the Special Olympics World Summer Games said.

Mohamed Abdul Baset Barin, a volleyball player, was pronounced dead in his room at North Carolina's Morrison Hall in Chapel Hill, N.C., after his coach called paramedics, officials said.

"It is tragic, it is saddening, but it was also, sadly, unavoidable," Tim Shriver, president and CEO of Special Olympics Inc., said.

Tim Taft, chairman of the Special Olympics' medical advisory committee, said Barin was an epileptic. An autopsy performed by the state medical examiner's office suggested his death was related to epilepsy. But since Barin died in his sleep, examiners couldn't be absolutely sure, Taft said.

Hockey

Panthers Make Moves

The Florida Panthers placed right wing Dino Ciccarelli, center Kirk Muller and defenseman Terry Carkner on waivers, clearing the way for them to become free agents, the team said. If the three veterans go unsigned through July 6, the Panthers likely will release them. . . .

Goaltender Ron Hextall was waived by the Philadelphia Flyers, perhaps ending his 13-year NHL career. Hextall, the Flyers' winningest career and playoff goaltender and a former Vezina Trophy winner, will wait 48 hours for another team to claim him. If none does, the Flyers will buy out the final year of his contract and perhaps offer him a job in the front office or as an assistant.

OlympicsCooperation Promised Atlanta Olympic organizers pledged full cooperation with congressional investigators looking into possible corruption in the bid for the 1996 Games, although they said there was nothing to find.

The House Commerce Committee investigators, who opened their probe in the wake of bribery allegations involving the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, will have "unfettered access" to all records, including eight sensitive boxes of documents, said Billy Payne, former head of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

He said another 6,000 boxes of records will be made available to the public July 19.

CAPTION: Goaltender Ron Hextall may be at end of 13-year career, after he was waived by Flyers. He is the club's winningest career and playoff goalie.