By Donal Ware
I had as much fun at the Daytona 500 this past Sunday as I’ve had at any sporting event ever. And trust me, I’ve covered the biggest sporting events.
While NASCAR’s roots are in the South, the sport has expanded to other places including the Poconos , New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Phoenix, California, Kansas City, Delaware, Michigan, Indianapolis, New York and Chicago. Of the 38 events 47 percent of the events (18) are not in the South.
I must say I had some preconceived notions about what to expect at NASCAR based upon mostly what I had read, mostly that NASCAR is a sport with a redneck fan base. I even had some people warn me to be careful. I expected to see a bunch of confederate flags. I only saw one.
There were plenty of celebrities there including Gronk, actors Clive Owen and Keanu Reeves, rapper Waka Flocka and gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez to name a few.
NASCAR is often associated with country music. Heck, I like country music. But I heard more hip-hop at the pre-race fan events than a little bit.
NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway Media Relations were extremely accommodating to me. I essentially had all access and hosted BOXTOROW live from the media center where among others I was able to catch up with newly elected Pro Football Hall of Famer Ladainian Tomlinson and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks.
The tailgating, the campers, off the chain!
So for this being my first race and Daytona 500, I was very pleasantly surprised.
I did observe a minuscule amount of Black folks and persons of color in the crowd but why is that? Is it NASCAR not catering to us? Is it our own perceptions?
There is no question that NASCAR has had a problem with race. Initially, you have to look no farther than Wendell Scott, the first Black driver in NASCAR, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, who faced racism throughout the course of his career. His perseverance and determination, garnered him much respect and opened things up to others after him like Willy T. Ribbs, Bobby Norfleet and more recently Bill Lester.
NASCAR has also gone as far as to ban the confederate flag, which is a symbol of racism, from its events. NASCAR has the Drive for Diversity program, which has graduated more recently Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr., who races fulltime in NASCAR’s Xfinity series which is a step below the Cup Series. On October 26, 2013, Wallace became the first Black driver to win in one of NASCAR’s national series since the aforementioned Scott in 1963, winning the Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway He has the best shot of becoming the next fulltime Black driver at the Cup Series level.
NASCAR does need to do a better job of marketing itself to the Black community (advertising). I believe it is hesitant, because NASCAR officials don’t feel as though Black folks will buy in. Having a Black driver on the Cup Series? That will change.
And that speaks to a larger point about the lack of Black drivers in NASCAR throughout the years. Wallace is a very capable driver. The issue with him and drivers like Ribbs, Norfleet and particularly Lester is that they couldn’t get sponsors.
Sponsors drive NASCAR. It’s a billion dollar sport. The sponsors in NASCAR are the most visible of any other sport. It is also a very expensive sport. But it begs the question, why aren’t there any Black drivers on the Cup Series or better yet, why isn’t Wallace?
Businesses should know that the Black community has always supported its own. Take Tiger Woods for example. Even though he hasn’t necessarily claimed the Black community even though his dad was Black, once calling himself Calabanasian, the Black community has always gravitated to Woods.
Take the Williams Sisters as well. You better not talk bad about Serena or Venus. (Race plays a part in tennis. How can Serena be the most dominating player in the world, having dominated more specifically Maria Sharapova, yet makes half of what Sharapova makes in endorsements? That’s another story for another time.)
Perhaps it’s the sponsors that have a race problem. Despite being dropped by GoDaddy in April 2016, Danica Patrick, the only female driver on the Cup Series, who is also white, was initially picked up by Nature’s Bakery, who then terminated its sponsorship in January. She has picked up sponsors that will fund “double digit” races for her this year, most notable Aspen Dental. Yet in 155 races in five years on the series, she has no wins and just six top 10 finishes.
Scott was able to find success on the track in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s despite the unimaginable discrimination he was dealt and not having a single sponsor.
As far as Blacks on the ownership and sponsorship level, former basketball great and NBA and NASCAR commentator Brad Daugherty is part owner of JTG Daugherty Racing. Former NFL wide receiver Randy Moss also owned a team.
As far as sponsorship, Howard University Radio station WHUR sponsored Marc Davis who within the last 10 years raced in a few NASCAR events and was supposed to be the next great driver but also had issues with attaining sponsors.
Wallace should be racing fulltime on the Cup Series. He could do both as plenty of drivers race in Xfinity and Cup.
NASCAR currently has a $500 million lawsuit against it, filed by Terrance Cox, III, founder of Diversity Motorsports Racing, who claims NASCAR “has intentionally interfered with the efforts of Cox and Diversity Motorsports to integrate the U.S. motorsports industry by perpetuating, condoning and actively participating in actions designed to humiliate, degrade, ostracize and exclude Cox.” Steve Harvey is reported to be a partner with Cox to create a team called Steve Harvey Races 4 Education.
It appears that NASCAR is giving the cold shoulder to Cox, not to Harvey. NASCAR has vehemently refuted these claims and has threatened a countersuit.
All of the politics aside, racing and more specifically NASCAR and the Monster Energy Drink Cup Series is a lot of fun. While viewership is down 45 percent since 2005 and attendance is down also, a sold out crowd at Daytona saw Kurt Busch win his first Daytona 500 in dramatic fashion.
A NASCAR race is probably happening in a city near you so go and see what it’s all about.