January 3, 2017 | Jason Campbell
NASCAR is a sport that has maintained popularity in the United States since its inception in the Early 1920s. It started to gain even more prominence with the emergence of the Stock car racing circuit during the 1930’s, especially in the South. Most people would consider the late 70s and early 80s as NASCAR’s glory years. You had drivers the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty that really seemed to crossover outside of the normal purview of your regular NASCAR fan.
It would be almost 30 years after NASCAR’s beginning before the sport would see its first Black Driver in Wendell Scott. Scott, a World War II veteran made his debut in the early 1940s in the Danville races ran by the Dixie Circuit. At the time, race organizers decided they would try a rather unusual, and unprecedented, promotional “gimmick” by recruiting a Black driver to compete against the “good ol’ boys.” But they didn’t want just any black driver, they wanted a fast driver with talent and skill, not someone to come out there and mockery of themselves and the sport. Scott eventually became a mainstay on the NASCAR scene. In 1963 Scott went on to win the Grand National event (Now Sprint Cup) and to date is the only African-American to do so in NASCAR’s storied history.
NASCAR has come a long way from those days in the 1960’s. In recent years NASCAR has embarked on initiatives to diversify the sport and to open it up to different demographics outside of the predominantly male,
Caucasian race attendees. In fact, In the last three years alone they have banned the brandishing of the confederate flag inside of their race tracks, increased recruitment of diverse corporate talent and have even taken steps to make the races and ancillary events more welcoming to other groups and cultures.
In 2004 NASCAR implemented the Drive for Diversity program through the company Rev Racing, spearheaded by Sports & Entertainment impresario Max Siegel. The program has helped bring in more minority and women drivers in addition to new pit crew members; really helping the sport further expand and diversify its fan base. Many of the Rev Racing pit crew members are former college athletes looking for a change of scenery and a different platform within sports to fuel their hunger forcompetition and comradery. A large part of the success of the outreach of the program is attributed to the heavy recruitment of athletes at HBCUs and the Drive for Diversity combine that Rev Racing and NASCAR puts on every year (co-hosted by Hampton University and Bethune-Cookman University). NASCAR has also implemented their Diversity Internship program which is aimed at identifying and recruiting multicultural undergraduate college students with the objective of providing them with hands on training and exposure to industry leaders.
When asked, NASCAR Executives will tell you that they have a long way to go when it comes to diversity matters within the sport. However, you can see from the fan experiences to their corporate leadership, NASCAR seems to be all-in and committed to making their races more inclusive to all walks of life, as they look to take the sport into the future.