In This Politically Correct World, NHRA Gets It
While the history of NASCAR is colorful and interesting, it has always been considered a southern activity. It was born and bred in the Southeast, and thrived there for decades. It’s only been in the last two decades that well known and competitive drivers such as Jeff Gordon (Indiana), Kevin Harvick (California) and others have “broken” that southern barrier. In fact, it’s common knowledge that when a competitor arrived from outside the southeast his transition into major league stock car racing was often made more difficult by those who barely hid their anti-Yankee feelings.
For years there was a mystique about stock car racing that eventually captured the attention of the nation’s motorsports fans, but a funny thing happened on the way to becoming the largest form of motorsports in North America: The media began to comment on the fact that NASCAR appeared to be an all-white activity seemingly peopled by beer-swilling rednecks, an image that NASCAR actually appeared to embrace for a time. Regardless, Richard Pryor’s 1977 film Greased Lightning, the story of African-American Wendell Scott’s efforts to become the first black stock car racer, only confirmed the perception that NASCAR wasn’t exactly welcoming minorities into its ranks.
Eventually recognizing the problem, and knowing they had to solve it rather than just hope it faded away, NASCAR announced in 2004, with considerable fanfare, a new Drive for Diversity program designed to provide an easier path to driving and/or mechanical careers for women and other minorities. Since then NASCAR has issued a series of press releases and stories about the program, but upon closer inspection it would appear that it’s failed to achieve it goals. Not one single driver who has participated in and/or completed the NASCAR program is currently competing in any of its top three series. In fact, none of those drivers has even participated in a single Cup race, much less the full series.
Ironically, every time NASCAR puts out anything regarding their Drive for Diversity program NHRA receives a handful of calls asking if drag racing has a similar program. Upon hearing that there is no diversity program in drag racing most of those members of the press express outrage and anger – until they hear the facts, which can be summed up in just seven words: Drag racing doesn’t need a diversity program.
The latest wave of phone calls headed NHRA’s way are the result of an ESPN broadcast of Outside The Lines: First Report on Sunday morning, July 29, which devoted its entire 30-minute time slot to a discussion of the NASCAR diversity program. In essence, the show, and the talking heads who appeared, which included a team owner, an aspiring racer and a well-known member of the media who’s covered NASCAR for years, trashed the program for failing to achieve a single goal. While African-American team owner Brad Daugherty seemed very conscious of his “position” within the NASCAR family, and appeared reluctant to voice negative comments, the others were far less reticent.
It’s unnecessary to outline the entire ESPN broadcast, which offered up some very hash judgments of the entire Drive for Diversity program, and based on past actions NHRA is likely to be on the receiving end of another round of questions from the uninformed media.
NHRA Drag Racing has never needed a diversity program, period. Other than the protracted battle Shirley Muldowney had to fight before NHRA granted her a license, no one else has ever faced or been forced to overcome racial, ethnic or gender barriers in order to participate in drag racing. From John Kimball to J.R. Todd to Larry Nance, the only thing that appears to have mattered to drag racing fans is whether or not the driver’s a winner. The only colors that fans care about are the green of the starting light and the white or yellow of the win light. From the day Amy Faulk became the first woman to win an NHRA championship (in Super Stock) through Shirley Muldowney’s three titles, Angelle Sampey’s 41 victories and on to the current exploits of Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force, drag racing fans have not only welcomed women, they’ve embraced their participation. If you’ve ever witnessed a Muldowney personal appearance you’ve heard dozens of women of all ages telling her how her story inspired them to become racers themselves, and how her successes proved that they, too, could make it in a male-dominated activity. Muldowney may indeed be responsible for the fact that there are now hundreds – and we do mean hundreds – of young women competing in the sportsman ranks.
If you’re truly interested in ethnic diversity, drag racing offers plenty of that, too. Cruz and Tony Pedregon have helped drag racing tap into today’s rapidly growing and vibrant Hispanic marketplace. When Tony drove for John Force, sponsor Castrol made a significant effort to fully integrate him into their marketing programs. Regardless of where the effort came from, the Pedregons have been featured in numerous clips on Galavision, Telemundo and Univision. That’s proven to be very valuable exposure for NHRA Drag Racing.
Try this little exercise. Start people watching at your next race. You’ll be surprised by the ethnic and gender diversity in the grandstands, in the pits, in those working on the cars and in those doing the driving. You’ll actually see the same diversity among the media group that regularly reports on drag racing. Susan Wade is a Senior Writer for this site, and Carol Johnson supplied half the photos for this article.
NASCAR may still be the most popular form of racing in the United States, but from at least the perspective of diversity, it's light years behind drag racing. The difference between NASCAR and NHRA Drag Racing on this issue is significant. Drag racing has never had to “work” to formally accept women and minorities. Just show up and race. Prove that you can win. That’s all drag racing fans care about. The fact that you’re purple with three eyes, yellow hair and two left arms is meaningless. As the late Al Davis often said, “Just win, Baby!”
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