Why Black people don't care about NASCAR
NASCAR'S lack of a black fan base isn't as one-sided as you think. Picture this: 1963 at Speedway Park, a one-mile dirt track in Jacksonville, Florida where stock car racers like Coo Coo Marlin, Earl Brooks, Fireball Roberts, Ralph Earnhardt and Glen Wood all cemented their legend behind the wheel. Wendell Scott, a black driver, the only black driver in the history of The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing at the time, driving the Chevrolet Bel Air he’d purchased from Ned Jarrett, passes the legendary Richard Petty with 25 laps to go in the 200-lap race, eyeing a clear path to the winner’s circle.
He’s rolling with rush, riding the wave of revving engines and high-octane smoke stacks. Peeling away from the thundering herd with pedal lurching toward metal, Scott—widely considered the Jackie Robinson of NASCAR—is speeding to a place called “going too goddamned fast” while spiked on adrenaline and the thirst for victory. Scott was in the zone.
The Danville, Va. native then beats the highly touted Buck Baker handily, two laps out in front of the field, but sees the checkered flag wave for the man who comes in behind him, in second.
There he was, the first black stock car racer to ever notch a Cup-level NASCAR victory, losing at winning. Getting the okey-doke when he should have been kissing the race queen, when “they” should have been kissing the ring. This was Southern-stock car racing at its most racist, its most exclusionary.
NASCAR didn’t uphold Scott’s win until all the fans had left the track. When there would be no roar of the crowd, no rapturous applause, no victory speech, no victory lap, no trophy.
This is the legacy of African-Americans in NASCAR. Scott “won” that day, but didn’t get his trophy until four weeks later before a race in Savannah, Ga. What’s worse is there hasn’t been a single major victory for a black driver in the sport since.
50 years and counting.
The fact that the DAYTONA 500 is called “The Great American Race” is a blatantly appalling double entendre. Where’s the diversity? Where’s the great American melting pot? And while Danica Patrick made NASCAR history by becoming the first woman to win a pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, there are still no drivers of color on the 2.5-mile tri-oval this year. None.
So when one wonders why the commercial juggernaut that is NASCAR has failed to attract a significant black and brown following, well, duh, that’s a good place to start. But are we dealing with a lost cause, here?
This much we know: NASCAR is digging out of a deep hole.
You might be a redneck if…you love NASCAR. This is the general consensus of NASCAR’s fan base and it’s not just amongst blacks. Off the record, a NASCAR insider revealed that Non-Southern whites don’t like NASCAR because of its redneck image. They don’t like it. Don’t want to be grouped in with a fan base whose reputation is one of a tobacco spittin’, trailer park livin’, gun rack totin’ and Confederate Flag wavin’ horde that live and breathe America’s fastest-growing sport, second only to the National Football League in television viewers. I guess the success of Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby should have been a clue.
“Southern whites are very ingrained in whatever bigotry and prejudices that they have,” said Phil Horton, Director of Athletic Performance for Rev Racing, NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity’s development program for minority and female drivers and crewmembers. “But I will say this: If it had been as bad as people think it is, I would not have been as successful as I have been.”
President of NASCAR Mike Helton believes that the sport has shaken its “redneck image.”
"We believe strongly that the old Southeastern redneck heritage that we had is no longer in existence," said Helton. "But we also realize that there's going to have to be an effort on our part to convince others to understand that."
But do black folks even care?
The stats say hell to the no. At least comparatively speaking. According to NASCAR’s own research, 8.6 percent of its total fan base is black.
Blacks aren’t lining up to support NASCAR because it’s hard to identify with. There are no black superheroes in NASCAR. There’s no Tiger Woods or Ray Lewis or LeBron James strapped in Legends and Bandolero cars rollin’ with the winners at your local Speedway.
Since Scott’s days, no black drivers at all, until Bill Lester entered two Cup events in 2006.
“We recognize the problem,” said Marcus Jadotte, head of NASCAR's public affairs division, where his duties include supervising the Drive for Diversity program. “That’s why there’s a very strong interest in inviting a multicultural audience to buy into the sport. It’s a multifaceted approach. I work very closely with our partners at Rev Racing to actively participate in the sport.”
If black folk don’t see their version of “us” mixed in with “them,” they don’t support it. That goes for most things, but especially NASCAR given its history. Give blacks someone they can get behind in a major race and they’d all pour into the stands at the Speedway like they did when Jackie debuted at Wrigley in ’47. More at Theshadowleague.com