Diversity in NASCAR?: 225 Million Reasons There’s None

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Diversity in NASCAR?: 225 Million Reasons There’s None

 

Just as things were starting to look up for NASCAR—Ratings have rebounded in 2008, there’s a new “bad guy” that has many talking about the sport, and the racing has been pretty good with the new car, rain clouds form over the parade.

There are unsettled issues though, that have continued to boil under the billion—dollar façade. NASCAR is somewhat like a movie set or walking through Six Flags—what you see is pretty, it’s what’s going on behind the plaster, plywood, and paint that isn’t supposed to be seen. 

And that can be an ugly sight. 

One of these ticking time bombs has been the “Diversity” movement in NASCAR. 

For a sport with southeastern roots, going nationwide meant getting past some, let’s say, “Cultural” issues. NASCAR isn’t known for diversity in race or gender. There have been a few exceptions to this rule, Wendell Scott, Janet Guthrie, Kelly Sutton, and Bill Lester, to name a few… Emphasize “few”. 

Mind you, women and minorities have found equality and success in other racing series; Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey, Antron Brown, Danica Patrick, Ashley Force, Melanie Troxel, and Peggy Llewellyn have competed in the highest levels of their series (NHRA and Indycar) and won. 

NASCAR has created the “Drive for Diversity” program, in an attempt to lure minorities and women into the sport. The program has shown some promise, but little true result. 

I understand in this dollar driven sport that money talks and winning is everything. Up and coming drivers must show ability and a face to sell sponsor product. A major team isn’t going to just put a driver in a top notch ride without a resume of success in other racing. 

Women and minorities have struggled to break into NASCAR in the driver’s seat. They have found gainful employment in other areas; just this past weekend I spoke with a female tire changer on a Craftsman Truck Series team. There are females and minorities up and down pit road and behind the scenes, the most high profile one likely being Max Siegel, President of Global Operations at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. He, like many others, has worked hard for many years to earn the respect and positions they have attained. 

This week, the “glass ceiling” collapsed on NASCAR, as former Nationwide Series garage inspector Mauricia Grant, filed suit for $225 million for alleged racial and sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination. 

Ouch. 

Grant, 32 and a black female, worked for NASCAR from January 2005 through October 2007. She states that the harassment started almost immediately upon her employment. The lawsuit includes specifics (take notes, there will be a quiz!) of 23 incidences of harassment and 34 of racial or gender discrimination. 

Yikes. 

The allegations also state that she complained to her superiors, who either ignored her claims or told her to effectively, “Suck it up.” 

Today NASCAR’s big brass attempted to spin the issue in their favor, with the “She didn’t use the proper channels,” excuse. 

So, the issue is she complained to her superiors, has specific incidences documented, and the best Brian France, Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, can do is push it back off on her. 

Houston, we have a problem. 

I’ve worked in the corporate environment, and served in the military (which was raised as an excuse for the treatment of Grant by her boss). Military types can be vicious with their humor, but no more so than people who haven’t served. 

But in today’s corporate environment, sexual harassment and discrimination allegations equal a “Guilty until proven innocent, and then you’re still on the black list” tag. 

Brian France committed a huge mistake in trying to pass this off as an issue with reporting, as he made no statement (at least that was reported on NASCAR.com) to say there would be an internal investigation of the allegations. No, it was time to blame the victim for not using “proper channels”. 

It sounds like Ms. Grant was smart enough to document specifics, after being advised to do so by her sister, that she may have NASCAR by the short and curlies. This one won’t go away soon, or cheaply. If she’s right then good for her, and I hope she gets every dollar she can. 

In a world of forced integration and gender equality, there are those who will remain resistant to that notion. Mass diversity and sensitivity training has swept the workplace. People are people, and will open their mouths and say stupid things in the wrong place, at the wrong time, to or in front of the wrong people.

You can think what you want, and say what you want to whom you want in your circle of friends, but be advised, “Big Brother” is watching and listening. 

With numerous lawsuits on the side of the complainants, huge payouts in settlement, and the black eye (no pun intended) a company can receive in the media, people have to be ABSOLUTELY careful with what they say and do in the workplace, and beyond. 

Because in this hyper-sensitive society we’ve become, there is no truer statement than this: Anything you say can and will be held against you in the court of public opinion. 

Shame on you Brian France, and shame on NASCAR, for trying to sweep this under the rug. Guilty or not, and there are plenty of instances where “Wolf” has been cried when there was none, NASCAR doesn’t need this kind of stain afflicting them. They need to take swift action to clean out the offenders, and restore (or actually create) an environment of equality on and off the track. 

Your “Drive for Diversity” just hit the concrete wall, and there was no SAFER barrier to soften the blow.

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