NASCAR’s Speaking Out On Racism – Finally

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 10 2020

Bubba Wallace spoke to racism in NASCAR over the weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Ashley R Dickerson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

A few years ago one of my cousins had a bumper sticker on her car that read, “After All These Years I Can’t Believe I’m Still Fighting The Same Crap.” 

That bumper sticker came to my mind Sunday during Atlanta Motor Speedway’s pre-race when the 40-car field stopped on the frontstretch and silenced the engines as NASCAR President Steve Phelps said, “The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission to take a moment of reflection to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport.” 

It came to my mind when I watched Bubba Wallace tear up after reading an email from his mother in which she said, “Good morning. I pray as a mom of a black son, that I never have to hear you crying out, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I love you, Bubba, and your life matters to me.”

Again, when I listened to four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon state, “I will never know what it’s like to walk in Bubba’s shoes or the shoes of anyone who has experienced racism. But I do know I can be better. We can do better to create positive change.”

And when the video created by the drivers aired on the FOX Sports telecast immediately following Phelps’ remarks, explaining how they planned to combat racial injustice. 

“It is our love for all mankind that will unite us as we work together to make real change,” the drivers said. 

I grew up in a segregated South and as a child I didn’t understand why there were separate water fountains, restrooms, and restaurants where not everyone was welcome or why people wanted to bomb black churches. I thought it was stupid and just wrong. Racism wasn’t allowed in our house. My parents had black friends and going to their homes seemed perfectly normal. 

I was in the seventh grade when our schools were desegregated. It wasn’t through busing, but rather consolidation which our parents voted for because they thought it would provide us with a better education. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I began gaining some insight into racism. That’s when an African-American classmate, who soon became my best friend, told me how their teachers emphasized to them the need for them to study twice as hard the year before we consolidated so the whites wouldn’t think they were dumb. That she hated all white people immediately after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, but she learned that not all white people were alike.

It took another decade before I understood the feeling of what it’s like to be a minority. When I was the Charlotte UPI bureau manager I was assigned to cover a seminar at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It wasn’t until I walked into the conference that I realized I was the minority because I was white. The adage that you never understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes is very true.

I thought we had moved forward and away from those horrible days of segregation and Jim Crow laws, but the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery showed me I was wrong.  

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was a leader in putting together the drivers’ video that aired Sunday.

“I spent a lot of time listening and learning this week, and that message rang clear with many of my other driver friends,” Johnson said. “We kind of found that message and that was the message that made it into the video.”

 Johnson said the conversations he had with Wallace at the beginning of the week were very good for him. 

“I spent the majority of the week reaching out to other black friends that I have around the country and just checking in on them, wondering what they’re thinking, wondering how they’re doing, and then just listening,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of noise out there, but the conversations I had on just basic human rights and being kind to one another rung true for me.” 

NASCAR has been riddled with racism since its origin in the segregated South, whether it was insinuated or blatant. Darlington’s spring race carried the name “Rebel” and a person dressed as Johnny Reb and carrying the Confederate battle flag always was in victory lane with the winning car. The atrocities NASCAR Hall of Fame member Wendell Scott endured, especially being denied his day in victory lane, will make you cry. In 1999, two white crew members, one of them wearing a white sheet over his head like a Ku Klux Klansman, maintained they were executing a prank when they taunted a black crew member on a third team in the infield at the New Hampshire track. The white crew members were fired.  

NASCAR created its Drive for Diversity in 2004, but earlier this year Kyle Larson, who came through that program, was suspended by NASCAR and lost his ride for using a racial slur.

“Something just has to change, and I think when you look at what happened in Minnesota, it’s just disgraceful to everyone,” Kevin Harvick said. “I’m definitely a person that wants to hear a plan that has actions included in it … to support each other and do the things that we can do to try to help our communities and help the conversations. There’s so much that everyone doesn’t understand of what we need to do and how we need to do it. But I can tell you that we need change.” 

The action taken at Atlanta by NASCAR and the drivers was long overdue, but it’s a good beginning. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 10 2020
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