A Personal View on NASCAR Promoting Minority Involvement

by BabyTate (Senior Writer)

January 21, 2009

Inspiration for writing this article comes from interest in a similar perspective taken by our good friend double A and comments from Sara, LJ, and Lisa.

Suggestions have been made to remove the Confederate Battle Flag of the Northern Virginia Army from the track presence in NASCAR. This is not as simple a matter as it sounds.

Please note the above picture of NASCAR’s finest moment, when the greatest driver (Fireball Roberts) won the greatest race (the Southern 500). The flag is displayed prominently in the promotional shot.

For the sake of being "hip" I could paint out the flag before posting the picture. But that would be reinventing history and inaccurate. For those even occasional readers of my articles, you know that is not going to happen. I do not live in a world of denial.

Perhaps I have a personal perspective on minorities in racing due to the fact that I was there at the beginning and saw what happened in regard to "racing race relations."

My family is spread throughout Dixie. Our people grew up in South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida. That’s my kin people, as we call them.

The first "sporting"  activity I ever had was learning to build a fast car and then working with kin and friends who had a car in the "Strictly Stock" Series in 1948 and ’49 and later "Grand National Circuit" after it appeared in 1950.

My cousin drove moon (liquor in the night), and he was perfect for the role as driver, having only two arrests. He was as good as any of the great Georgia drivers who ruled in the early days.

I was in High School when NASCAR was invented. I never had much use for their fancy rules and regulations. They rigged it up for one driver to win at one track and lose at another during the week to set up a big Saturday night payday.

They did this by manipulation of the rules, what equipment was legal, and their favorite when all else failed: "You passed when you weren’t supposed to pass an hour ago, so you’re disqualified." Don’t think a race hasn’t been settled by lying.

In my teenage view at the time, it was all for Bill France and his crowd to make money along with the other promoters. They let through what they wanted in equipment to get their people in there and to the finish line first.

Relations with minority communities in order to inspire participation? Blacks stayed in one corner of the track. Once in a while a black fan would wave to you, and once in a blue moon, one or two would speak with a driver or "the help" from a respectable distance.

However, there was zero effort to prevent Blacks from coming to races as fans, as the gate money was needed to pay the prizes.

In an effort to boost attendance from the black community, track owners recruited a bootlegger from western Virginia to run in the Dixie Circuit, Wendell Scott.

There were no black drivers that I personally saw in the late ’40s. However, I do recognize the efforts of Scott and any prejudice he may have faced on the track in the 1950s.

The word in the pits revealed white drivers gave extra equipment to help him, and he was well respected by the other drivers for his effort. He was a good driver. I never heard of any actual case of Scott being mistreated or denied a win due to racism.

Make no mistake about this, whether it was Richmond, Greenville-Pickens, Hickory, Spartanburg Fairgrounds, or the old Camden, "minorities knew how to stay out of trouble" in 1949. We were nearly a decade away from the racially tense times of Little Rock to Memphis.

That was true not just at the race track but also around town in the African-American community, if they wanted no trouble from those who were willing to give it if provoked. It is this permissive attitude that is at the centerpoint of the discussion about whether this still exists in some areas of NASCAR.

Females? We had a lady driver. She’d wear you out. Ol’ Noah Smith used to run a junkyard that was open on Sunday. His wife Louise drove for him down in North Augusta and such, and she was one tough hombre behind that wheel.

No one ever messed with Louise. I saw her slap a boy silly when she got hold of him after a race because he had "cut her off twiced."

There was more progress for women’s equality in racing with that right foot of Louise Smith than in all the regulations you can put in place. You know why? She could do it, winning over 25 races.

Can "majority" involvement in other professional sport rosters be increased by legislation and rules? No, the person has to perform in the skill or job.

Then, how can the opposite not be accurate as well? That non-majority participation from owners, drivers, and fans will increase as long as performance is the only deciding factor? You win, you’re in.

Think it can’t happen? Look at Tiger Woods in men’s Golf and the Williams sisters in female Tennis. You get it done, and they will come, to see how it is done. That’s how you increase participation, all things being equal. But are they equal?

The question arises, "Does NASCAR promote insensitive behavior" by turning a deaf ear to the cries of minorities who are offended by the behavior, language, and promotional items readily visible and available?

Is NASCAR out of touch with the ultra-sensitive 21st Century? A time where all references to anything other than mass-induced fantasy regarding what really happened throughout history is shouted down as ignorance?

If the national experience is any precursor, nothing will be done until the governing body takes the bull by the horns and mandates no "unseemly demonstrations of offensive or racist behavior" at the track.

At this point there are not enough minority fans to make an economic difference to the track owner.

Simply put, there is more money to lose at this time by outlawing the confederate flag flying and offending that particular crowd than there is to gain from additional possible minority fans or certain non-traditional fans.

Check back when that is the rule to see if any real progress has been made on the issue.

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