Commentary: Two Steps Forward, Many Laps Down

Just as we thought that NASCAR was turning the corner to attract new fans to its race series, this happened. 

If you probably have not heard, at the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 race at Talladega Motor Speedway in Alabama, a noose was found at Bubba Wallace's garage. Wallace is one of the racers on the Richard Petty Racing team driving the Number 43 Chevrolet Camaro. 

This incident stemmed from an announcement made by NASCAR some two to three weeks ago, that the popular racing series was going to do something about racism in the sport. They did so as a response to the national uproar and protests over the powder keg that blew here in Minneapolis. One that stemmed from four-centuries of systematic degradation of human beings based on colonial arrogance resulting in brutal racial superiority.

In a statement, NASCAR asked fans to not bring the Confederate battle flag or any related paraphernalia to any races. Talladega was supposed to be the big test of this new policy, since the state of Alabama would allow 4,000 fans in attendance. Obviously, we know about Alabama’s love of their “Southern heritage.”

Last week, Bubba Wallace raced in his Number 43 Camaro with a special livery that wore the hashtag Black Lives Matter. The livery was allowed by NASCAR to run in a race in the South. That livery was not on the Bubba Wallace's car in Talladega. However, those photos of the last race that he was in the Black Lives Matter Camaro was made abundantly clear to its "traditional" fans that it was not going to be tolerated.

Racism was not on the only item on NASCAR’s agenda this month. In another similar move, NASCAR posted on their social media a credo to support their LGBT fans. In fact, they've fashioned their logo, which has already been rainbow-ish in colors, to reflect the rainbow flag. 

Whether that irked the traditional fan base or anyone in the paddock area of Talladega to set a noose in Wallace’s stall is beyond comprehension.

With these efforts to bring a more diverse fan base to NASCAR, it felt like the noose hanging in Bubba Wallace's garage was a major setback in trying to go forward. It might have thwarted the efforts towards attracting a new fan base and creating more diversity on race teams and in the driver set, something that NASCAR has danced around with for decades.

When Willy T. Ribbs started driving, people were not very happy towards his presence on the track. Then again, Willy did have a decent career and is still successful as a NASCAR alumni. 

There had been women, such as Danica Patrick, and other minorities that have driven in NASCAR. This included foreign-born drivers such as Juan Pablo Montoya. 

But what is the problem with NASCAR? Is it because of the racing is outmoded compared to, say, IndyCar or IMSA? Is it because that NASCAR does not want to bow down too hard to spurn their traditional fan base? Who knows?

However, the noose did get responses across NASCAR. Bubba Wallace tweeted how upset he was and how he had to keep on fighting in order to keep racing. That's very important to know because he's not going to give up that easy. He's not that kind of driver. I have seen messages of support for Bubba Wallace from Toyota Motorsports, as well as Richard Petty, the boss of his racing team.

One thing about Richard Petty that people do not know is that he holds a high status in the sport. Petty is one of the most respected NASCAR race team owners and drivers of all time. When Petty speaks, y'all better listen.

When I was a kid, I was a fan of Richard Petty. I actually liked NASCAR back then. Petty and his familiar racing stock cars were the reason I liked the sport.

But then again, he was the one who hired by Bubba Wallace to have him drive his famous 43 even though, now, it's a Chevrolet Camaro instead of a Dodge or a Plymouth, as it was back in the day.

And Wallace is not someone who has lost every race. He is a damn good driver with a high profile – the only Black athlete driving full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series. Being at that sport's level, you have to be pretty damn good. Unlike the racer in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series that decided to "retire" because he didn't agree with the banning of the Confederate flag or any related paraphernalia at the races.

The question is not what do we do now? The question is, how do you continue to fight and resolve to attract a new and a much more diverse fan base? Also, are these measures echoed in other racing series, such as the NTT IndyCar Series, IMSA, or even Formula One?

You want to talk diversity in motorsport? Look at Formula One. Look at what Lewis Hamilton achieved. The number of world championships he achieved alongside one of the most diverse assembly of drivers ever assembled from many different countries, many different races, many different cultures. You want to talk about a United Nations? Look no further than F1. If you want to talk about success as a Black, British race car driver – Lewis Hamilton, full-stop.

I know for a fact that people who are not fans of Lewis Hamilton do not like him because of his race. They don't like him because he's been winning too many times, and I think they're bored by his constant presence on the podium by now. Sure, we need another world champion, but Lewis Hamilton is a good driver. So, why deny that fact? 

Also, look at the NTT IndyCar series? Again, an international set of drivers and even race car owners. When you have women that are racing alongside Brazilians that are racing alongside Takuma Sato, who won the Indy 500 a few years ago and, perhaps, done so in a brilliant manner. 

By the way, Sato is a former F1 driver. Yes, he's Japanese. He's a person of color. He was born outside the United States, but he is respected and honored among his brothers and sisters in the NTT IndyCar series.

The fan base in IMSA and IndyCar are presumed to be a lot more sophisticated. The average income is higher than those of NASCAR's fan base. That's a fact. F1's the highest among all, even though it has a very huge global following. More importantly is that you have a presumption of a higher intellect of IMSA and IndyCar race fan bases versus NASCAR. Remember, these are all presumptions. 

These are all prejudices that could either be proven or just written off by other people. Prejudices can sometimes be proven. That leads to hatred of the "other" – no matter who the "other" is.

However, the bottom line here is that there should be no room for racism. There is no room for any form of hatred. Not now. Not when the world is shouting at each other. Not when friendships are being broken because of different ideals. Not when you have symbols of racism and of armies lost used as a divergent ideology seen as volatile and subversive to a civil society – your definition of a civil society is of your own, mind you. 

Again, it's all on NASCAR. Richard Petty has done his part. He's hired Bubba Wallace. He's got him in his famed number 43. Wallace is racing every race as possible, especially in this protracted schedule that NASCAR has created for the Cup series. 

But NASCAR still need to work hard. They need to have conversations. While the conversations that Black Lives Matter movement spurned on are continuing, NASCAR needs to have conversation with their traditional fan base just to state the following: we want to attract new fans, whether you like it or not. 

Perhaps not that harsh, but that message needs to come through. I hope it does.

Cover photo by Derik Hamilton of the Associated Press courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times

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