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Nascar's Lack Of Diversity & The Impression of Racism

Charles JohnsonCorrespondent IJune 13, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 06:  Marc Davis #10 The Word Network & WHUR Radio Toyota stands by his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 at the Nashville Superspeedway on June 6, 2009 in Lebanon,Tennessee.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

I am an African American NASCAR fan and have been so since Willy T Ribbs was racing in 1986. I was ten years old then. I had to wait twenty years until the next African American Sprint Cup driver (Bill Lester), and now it seems we may have our next African American driver in Marc Davis (if he can graduate from the Nationwide Series), though already he is having a rough ride, in last week's Federated 500 he made a rookie mistake when he crashed into Brendan Gaughan while going in to the garage and then Brendan's crew chief Bryan Berry said some ethic slurs to Marc during a heated discussion.

Now Berry has been suspended indefinitely from his duties by NASCAR yesterday and I'm fine with that. Some people are asking that Rusty Wallace (the owner of Brendan's ride & Berry's boss), should come out and make a statement against what Berry said.

As of Friday evening to my knowledge Rusty hasn't made a public statement one way or the other and here is where the problem begins with some owners & officials in NASCAR not taking a stand on racial issues.

I have been to the NASCAR races at Chicagoland Speedway which is my home track and yes I counted six Confederate flags flying among the tailgaters last summer for the Lifelock 400. Let me tell you, as a person of color (whose family is originally from Louisiana), that doesn't make you feel all warm & fuzzy inside.

NASCARhas been slowly addressing the race issue but so far its not enough, I know they have given some effort with their young diversity program which gave us Marc Davis and I know Earvin "Magic" Johnson has been involved with that program. Not to mention in the Camping World Trucks division NFL Pro Bowl reciever Randy Moss is a new but successful truck owner.

Still Nascar's biggest problem is their reputation and the appearance of being a sport that doesn't embrace diversity like other forms of racing.

Watch NHRA, IRL or Formula 1 (and I know they have had some issues with fans), but those racing leagues have women and people of color not only racing but winning. I think NASCAR really needs to embrace opening the sport to people of color. I'm not asking for some unequal program that brings in people of color because of the color of the skin and not the speed and agility of their racing, nor making cosmetic changes just to appease those of us who want the stands to look more like modern America.

I'm saying to simply make the sport more appealing, not just to people of color but to women and to more fans in urban areas of all backgrounds, because Nascar is still perceived as a league of General Lee's (which someone brought to last years Chicagoloand race and parked in a prominent place), and good ol' boys racing throughout the south.

The history of African Americans in racing is rather short, in 1956 Elias Bowie crossed the color line and raced one race, he was followed by Charlie Scott (also only made one race), in 1956. More famously Wendell Scott started 495 Cup races during the 60's and won a race in 1963. George Wiltshire made two starts in the 70's and Randy Bethea made one start in the same decade. That brings us to Willy T. Ribbs who made a few starts in 1986 and then re-appeared in trucks in 2001. And then Bill Lester had a great career in trucks from 2000-7.

NASCAR has tried to walk a fine line of still having its southern heritage while doing just barely enough to bring in a handful of people of color to the sport but its 2009, the President of the United States is African American, its time more drivers, crew members and fans look like him and are welcomed to the sport.

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