A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Minority Group Attacks NASCAR
Although NASCAR’s past track record on promoting diversity has been about a lap behind society, the family-owned sports conglomerate never has done more than it is doing right now to try to catch the field.
New chairman Brian France, who took over for his father, Bill France Jr., a year ago, has made diversity one of his priorities. This year, NASCAR instituted a ”Drive for Diversity” program, with NBA legend Magic Johnson as its co-chairman.
But a group that calls itself the National Association for Minority Race Fans says this is sugarcoating.
The group has launched a highly inflammatory attack at NASCAR, claiming it allows discrimination and bigotry to minorities and women.
The main page of the NAMRF’s Web site features images of a Confederate flag, a burning cross in front of race cars and a cartoon of a white man in a white hood and robe waving a NASCAR flag. It says: “See What We’re Up Against.”
The centerpiece of the group’s attack appears to be a documentary that filmmaker Shawn Griffith said he has spent three years making.
A trailer for the documentary, called Dixie 500 and expected to be released to coincide with the 2005 Daytona 500, was made public Wednesday on the group’s website, www.namrfcom.
It states: “If you thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was controversial, then get ready to be shocked. Is NASCAR on the verge of civil war?”
What follows is footage of white men, who appear to be at racetracks or claim to be NASCAR fans, making derogatory comments about minorities. One states: ”It’s always been a white man’s sport, and it should always be a white man’s sport.” Another man uses the N-word and a third refers to “trees for hanging.”
PROTEST PUT OFF
The NAMRF’s spokesman, Jirad Brown, did not return phone calls Wednesday. Brown and Griffith held a news conference Sunday in Talladega, Ala., after canceling a protest because they said track officials couldn’t guarantee their safety. But neither answered questions.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said the NAMRF has never come to NASCAR to discuss any problems. NASCAR officials contacted the group about 2 ½ weeks ago after learning that the documentary crew showed up at the headquarters of Anheuser Busch, sponsor of NASCAR’s Busch Series and of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car.
Poston said the group was very secretive and appeared to be trying to “intimidate NASCAR and our sponsors for some sort of financial gain.”
On the website, there is a section soliciting people who have been assaulted, raped or discriminated against at NASCAR events to join a class-action lawsuit.
CURIOUS ABOUT GROUP
Tony Lesesne, the African-American publisher of Miami-based In Focus magazine and a lifelong race fan, is offended to see the Confederate flags that some NASCAR fans fly at races.
But when Lesesne saw just the original home page of the three images that pertain to slavery, he said: “Wow, it’s pretty inflammatory.”
Lesesne has worked extensively with Homestead-Miami Speedway to help promote racing to minorities, and he’s been to NASCAR races at Homestead, Atlanta, Dover, Del., and Talladega, without incident.
But like NASCAR officials, he’d like to learn more about the group, their motives and what they have uncovered.
”Sometimes you have to have that one totally aggressive, out-of-bounds, over-the-top individual to really bring attention to somebody,” Lesesne said.
To say that racism doesn’t exist in NASCAR, just as it is to say that it doesn’t exist in American society, is nave. But the NASCAR of today, which has moved from its Southern roots to mainstream and Corporate America, does not promote or condone racism.
”Many years ago there was probably a lot of that [racism] around,” 29-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Saturday at Talladega. “I won’t sugarcoat the fact that there was probably 300 percent more Rebel flags in the infield than there are today. But the sport is changing. And I think the willingness to change should be noted and appreciated.”