Commentary

NASCAR diversity at the crossroads of troubled past, desired future

Wendell Scott crossed the color barrier in NASCAR in 1961. Now 47 years later, there are still hurdles on the way to NASCAR's stated goal of diversifying the sport, writes Ed Hinton.

Updated: August 11, 2008, 2:03 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

Editor's note: This article contains language that may be offensive to some readers.

Joey Logano and Marc Davis have been racing together since they were 8 years old, in quarter-midget cars. They're 18 now, and both have risen through the ranks against enormous odds to NASCAR's hottest team, Joe Gibbs Racing.

"That puts them in the top .001 percent of the cream of the crop," says Harry Davis, Marc's father.

Logano's career has taken flight. He is heir apparent to Tony Stewart, who is leaving JGR after this season, with the No. 20 Sprint Cup team that has won two championships. Already, Logano has won a race in NASCAR's version of Triple-A baseball, the Nationwide Series.

Marc Davis and the JGR team are unsure of his next step. He remains in one of NASCAR's Class A leagues, the Camping World East series. The best and nearest hope for advancement team president J.D. Gibbs offers is perhaps the Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR's Double-A ball, beginning next year.

Logano is white. Davis is black.

Of six black drivers participating in NASCAR's developmental leagues, Davis is nearest to the threshold of the big time.

A question recurs in his father's mind: If not now, when?

This, the summer of 2008, is the crescendo moment, the crossroads of NASCAR's racial history.

In a pending federal lawsuit seeking $225 million in damages, former NASCAR official Mauricia Grant, who is black and female, alleges 23 instances of sexual harassment and 34 instances of race and gender discrimination by her peers and supervisors.

If her charges are proved, the case could shatter much of the image-building of NASCAR's five-year effort -- the Drive for Diversity or D4D -- to bring ethnic diversity to a sport that has been virtually all white for its 60-year existence.

NASCAR records show that Wendell Scott, the first black driver to compete regularly in NASCAR, won $900 for finishing 10th in the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C., in 1965.

In 1986, four years before his death, Scott recalled what he actually did receive from the promoter after waiting in line behind all the white drivers until finally there was no one else left at the payoff booth in the infield.

"He said, 'Nigger, you better git yo' ass down the road!'" Scott said, his voice breaking as he sat in his auto repair shop in Danville, Va. "He didn't pay me."

Asked what he had done in reaction, Scott breathed deeply and said, "The only thing I could do."

Then he bowed his head and wept as hard as a man can weep and still sit up in a chair, for what seemed like minutes. Finally, he composed himself and said, "I just took it. Just went on down the road."

Scott remains the only black driver to win a Cup-level NASCAR race, at Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963. He was not awarded the win until days later.

NASCAR already has spent a source-estimated $20 million -- the sanctioning body won't reveal the figures -- over the past five years, plus channeling outside sponsorship money, on its Drive for Diversity program to develop minority and female drivers and crew members.

According to numbers provided by NASCAR, there are nine black crew members, engineers and transporter drivers working in the three national series.

Critics call the funding woefully insufficient. Even at $5 million to $6 million per year including outside sponsorships, the money would barely sponsor one decent Nationwide Series car for a single season. Top drivers in Sprint Cup, the major league, run on $30 million apiece and up.

"The program has delivered on what it set out to do, which is to create opportunities for young minority and female aspiring drivers to participate in NASCAR developmental series," says Marcus Jadotte. Jadotte, who is black, is the former deputy director of John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and heads NASCAR's public affairs division, where his duties include supervising the Drive for Diversity program.

NASCAR, citing research from Scarborough USA, says there are 6 million black fans of the sport, equal to 8.6 percent of NASCAR's total fan base.

Still, there are no regular black or female drivers at NASCAR's elite Sprint Cup level, or even in the top steppingstone, the Nationwide Series.

NASCAR's first Latino star, Juan Pablo Montoya, has been a windfall, fleeing the frustrating politics of Formula One to drive for his American friend, NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi.

Black, White And Green
The clear-cut color barrier in NASCAR "is not black or white," Brad Daugherty says. "It's green."

Daugherty is a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, a lifelong NASCAR enthusiast, a NASCAR team owner and a NASCAR television analyst for ESPN. And he is black.

"They've never been standing and guarding the gates from anyone of color coming in and participating," Daugherty says. "It's all about corporate dollars. If you don't have corporate partners, I don't care who you are, you're not going to participate in this sport. It's just not going to happen."

Brad Daugherty

They've never been standing and guarding the gates from anyone of color coming in and participating. It's all about corporate dollars. If you don't have corporate partners, I don't care who you are, you're not going to participate in this sport. It's just not going to happen.

-- Brad Daugherty

For each of the black drivers who have entered NASCAR, and then gone, there have been hundreds of white drivers who also couldn't get there, or couldn't stay there, because of money issues.

The financial barrier dates back to Scott. For all the ill treatment he suffered, Scott at least was not barred from racing. The overwhelming reason he won only one of his 495 Cup races from 1961 to '73 was lack of funding in America's most expensive sport.

The economics have not changed, from Wendell Scott to Marc Davis. And they likely never will, by consensus of critics and proponents of NASCAR alike.

"It's the business of racing instead of the racing business," Harry Davis says. "The business side dictates."

New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss recently acquired a 50 percent stake in a Truck series team. To up the star power, reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will make his truck debut for Moss' team next week at Bristol, Tenn.

If Moss' team succeeds, he will break a trend of minority celebrity owners who have tried to develop NASCAR teams but have been unable to secure substantive sponsorship from corporate America. Those who have come and gone include Jackie Joyner-Kersee and husband Bob Kersee, a partnership between Joe Washington and Julius Erving, and Reggie Jackson; Reggie White was far along in the process when he died.

Daugherty had limited success as a Truck and Nationwide owner in the past, and just last month bought into another team that will field one car at the Cup level in 2009. The team already had three white drivers under contract for next year, one in Cup, two in Nationwide, so his hands are tied on improving diversity there.

He is trying to be as proactive as possible for minority drivers, putting money where his mouth is -- but it's money out of his own wallet.

He and former driver Robert Pressley, who is white, run a short-track team based in Asheville, N.C., "And we're looking at kids to put in these late-models," Daugherty says. "For the African-American kid I'm looking at putting in my late model, I'm going to have to pay for it out of my own pocket. I'm looking at spending probably $185,000 to try to run this kid some. I don't have anyone at this point, corporatewise, who's going to help fund that.

"Now I've got a kid sitting in my office today, and his dad is sitting there with a corporate sponsor, and they're willing to put twice that into this kid's development. So do I look at this kid and say, 'No, I'm only doing African-American kids and Latino kids'? I want to race. First of all, I'm a racer.

"But I'm looking at running, hopefully, an African-American driver in the Truck series," he says. Daugherty wouldn't confirm the likelihood that Marc Davis is his man, but also wouldn't deny it, in a joint effort with the Gibbs team.

Still, that's Trucks. That's Double-A ball. That's been a burial ground for the careers of black drivers. Willy T. Ribbs, for decades America's best-known black driver, went winless in Trucks in 2001, then retired. Bill Lester struggled in the Truck series for several years.

Two Drivers, One Goal
"What's going to get Marc in a Cup car has nothing to do with the color of his skin," his father says. "It has to do with his ability to drive the car, his ability to generate money to sell products for sponsors, and his ability to have a pleasant attitude and be a good everyday person."

[+] EnlargeMarc Davis
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMarc Davis has risen through the ranks to the cusp of breaking into one of NASCAR's three national series. He made an ARCA start last week at Pocono, finishing eighth after starting 12th.

But, while adamantly dismissing race as an issue in racing, Harry Davis, anxious and loving father of a budding NASCAR talent, again wonders on behalf of his son: If not now, when?

He sees two drivers, his son and Tom Logano's son, "who have raced together all their lives, both of them seeming to succeed at every level. They go through all the training. They're not strangers to NASCAR. NASCAR has been watching them all their lives, and they've met all the requirements. …

"So what I want to know and everybody else wants to know is, if not now, when?"

Joey is moving away on a career rocket ride. What about Marc?

"Marc's probably a little behind Joey, just from the experience standpoint," says J.D. Gibbs, president of the racing team founded by his father, former NFL coach Joe Gibbs. JGR began a diversity program in 2003, in partnership with NFL star Reggie White, who died in 2004.

"Since we started the program with Reggie White, we've been careful not to push guys," J.D. Gibbs says. "You could do more damage if you push guys quick. Just let them take their time. Marc's 18."

But so is Joey.

"Joey has been racing since he was 6," Gibbs says. "A lot. Marc hasn't." Marc started in bicycle motocross, or BMX, at 6, but he didn't move to motorized cars until age 8.

What Gibbs might mean, more precisely, is the intensity of experience, which is predicated on money.

Even at age 9, when Joey and Marc were racing in the Bandolero youth series in little full-bodied cars, Joey couldn't help noticing the differences in funding. Plus, the Loganos moved from Connecticut to Georgia when Joey was 9, so their commute was short to Charlotte and to Atlanta for weeknight Bandolero racing. The Davises drove all the way from Maryland.

"Marc did have his dad, who was behind him 110 percent," Joey says.

But 110 percent from middle-class, career NBC News cameraman Harry Davis didn't add up, financially, to 110 percent from well-to-do entrepreneur Tom Logano, Joey's father.

"Marc wasn't as competitive as Joey was at the same age," Tom Logano says. "I think some of that was funding. But some of that was talent. Joey has a unique talent that I haven't seen with any other kid his age."

"Joey and I both have what it takes to make it to the top," Marc Davis says in a no-brag, just-the-facts sort of way. "It's true he has been in bigger cars for a while longer than I have, and my learning curve is a little longer than his."

Just this week, Gibbs moved Marc into a Cup car testing program for the team's R&D unit. That's a role Joey had previously, and "It's very, very valuable," Joey says.

Still, the pattern has been Marc following Joey.

The separation point, both NASCAR and Gibbs officials point out, is that in the Camping World East series last year, Joey won seven races and the season championship and Marc went winless.

"I feel for them [the Davises] because they aren't there yet," Tom Logano says, "but they're a helluva lot farther ahead of the game than what 90 percent of people go through."

Harry Davis does not dispute that. But it has been a long and taxing journey, after taking his son from age 6 in bicycle motocross to quarter-midget cars at 8, to Bandoleros at 9, then Legends cars, late models, through NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program into a development contract with Gibbs.

To get his son additional seat time on bigger tracks, Harry Davis has financed his own racing operation in the ARCA series, a satellite league to NASCAR, with backing from Howard University-affiliated radio station WHUR.

Just last Saturday, Marc not only survived the wild wrecking common to ARCA in his rookie race at 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway but finished eighth, on the lead lap -- a major, if barely noticed, accomplishment. According to regulations for graduating through bigger and bigger tracks, Marc is now qualified to move up to 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway, stock car racing's biggest oval, for an ARCA race this fall.

"If you have a list of requirements or prerequisites, and a driver has met all of those, what else does he need to do?" Harry asks.

People ask me, specifically, 'When's Marc coming? What's the holdup with Marc? Is Marc not driving well, or is there another holdup?' I don't have the answers to these questions.

-- Harry Davis

"People ask me, specifically, 'When's Marc coming? What's the holdup with Marc? Is Marc not driving well, or is there another holdup?' I don't have the answers to these questions."

Maybe it hasn't been Logano-class money, but the Davises have spent a bundle.

"When I say Marc is my million-dollar baby, everyone thinks I'm talking about how much money he's going to make," says Harry Davis. "But I'm talking about how much money it cost to get him here."

He pauses, ponders, adds, "I would say it's probably been more than $2 million … and $2 million now won't do it. You're talking about development over a 12-year span … I would say you can't develop a kid now for under $5 million."

The money was scraped together through a combination of discounts on equipment prices, small sponsorships, help in kind from experts, and out of the Davis family's own pocket.

The financial burden is mostly off the two fathers now, except for Harry's separate effort in ARCA. JGR acquires sponsorships to fund the two drivers within the team.

But Joey more than likely will move up to Sprint Cup next season, replacing Stewart, becoming teammates with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin in NASCAR's major league.

"You've got to keep in mind that Joey is, you know, phenomenal," Gibbs says. "And he has a lot of experience. So I don't want to put any undue pressure on Marc. Let's take our time. But he's champing at the bit, so now we're going to let him start rolling, doing some of that Cup testing now that Joey's not available."

For Marc, "I would say there's a possibility he could run something [part-time] in Nationwide in the fall," Gibbs says. "Next year, we're trying to look at trucks as a great spot for him."

There are six black drivers competing at developmental levels with the big league as a goal. Chase Austin's career appears to have stalled, and Tim Woods III is in the Camping World West series, which is essentially a rookie league. Lloyd Mack is also in the CWW; Jonathan Smith is in the Camping World East series; and Michael Cherry is in the Whelen All-America Series for short-track late models, another rung below the Camping World leagues.

"Marc," his father says, "is the one who's at the doorstep right now."

And the question resonates, sometimes thunders, in Harry Davis' mind: If not now, when?

Willy T. And The First Best Chance
Thirty years ago, William Theodore Ribbs Jr., called "Bill" by his well-to-do San Jose, Calif., family but racing as Willy T. Ribbs, flew from San Francisco to Charlotte, to the doorstep of NASCAR stardom.

[+] EnlargeWilly T. Ribbs
AP PhotoWilly T. Ribbs became the first black driver to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1991. He had success in multiple forms of racing, but his forays into NASCAR over the years were infrequent.

He stayed there for a matter of days before the Southern climate got too hot and the promoter sent him home out of fear for his safety.

"Thirty years," says Ribbs, now 53, musing. "And really, what has changed?"

Bottom line, there are no black drivers in Cup.

"I look at where this sport has come in the last decade," Daugherty says. "And all the work that's gone into trying to create inclusiveness. And the movement on the meter has just been marginal."

Ribbs is unabashedly bitter.

"I am angry. Oh, you bet I am," he says. "I've been damaged. As far as I'm concerned, they're the most damaging organization to my career -- NASCAR has been. And I'm not going to forgive, and I'm certainly not going to forget."

"Everywhere I was on a level playing field, I won," Ribbs says. Indeed, he won 22 SCCA Trans Am races, 10 IMSA GT events, a Formula Ford championship in Europe and became the first black driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, in 1991.

His chronic difficulty was attracting major sponsorship, even with comedian Bill Cosby as not only his leading pitchman in the Indy car years but also his primary financial source for racing.

"You mention a driver who participated in a limited number of NASCAR events a generation ago," says NASCAR's Jadotte. "In fairness, I think our progress -- NASCAR the sport and NASCAR the sanctioning body -- should be measured on our commitment to the Drive for Diversity."

In 2001, three years before the NASCAR diversity initiative but not exactly a generation ago, Willy T. Ribbs took his final shot at NASCAR, spearheading Dodge's diversity efforts in the Craftsman Truck Series.

At his very first race back, on a practice day at Daytona during February SpeedWeeks, Ribbs went to a men's room reserved for crewmen and drivers.

"I didn't use the urinals because they were all booked," he recalls. "I went into a stall. And the writing on the wall was, 'Here I sit, and out a nigger I s---.' So then I thought, Wow. I went to the next stall and there was something else written with the n-word in it. There were like seven stalls, and on the partitions of three of them, there was the n-word. This was in 2001. At Daytona. In a garage area bathroom."

Walking back out into the garage area, "I was ready to punch the first m----------- who looked at me wrong. But this was my first race [back], and things were going well. So I didn't explode the issue. But I was pissed. That bathroom was frequented by all the teams."

A generation ago, visionary Charlotte Motor Speedway president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler meant to make Ribbs -- then 23, charismatic, just back from a Formula Ford championship in Europe -- NASCAR's first black star.

After an impressive first test in a stock car, Ribbs ran afoul of the Charlotte police. He was ticketed for driving the wrong way on a one-way street downtown. He now claims that was the extent of it, but Wheeler, backed by numerous newspaper accounts since, says Ribbs tried to outrun the cops as a publicity gimmick, thinking it would please Wheeler.

"I said, 'Willy, what the hell are you doing?'" Wheeler recalls now. "That took him completely aback because he knew I was a promoter and he figured that would get a tremendous amount of ink. I said, 'It will get a lot of ink, but it ain't the kind of ink we want.' Obviously, it did. Even in those days, it was front page, the whole deal."

Soon, at his office, "I got a call," Wheeler says. "The voice said, 'If you let that blankety-blank race in the 600, you're dead.' Usually those things don't amount to anything. But I was really, really concerned about him."

Ribbs now maintains he left because Wheeler switched cars on him, from a good one to a mediocre one.

"No, no, no! That was not the reason," Wheeler says. "He left because I sent him home. I just thought the thing had gotten out of hand. Sometimes the promoter in you has to stop. You're on the edge of the cliff, so you put it in reverse and say there'll be another time."

The next time was 1986, when team owner Bill Gardner coaxed Ribbs away from a shot at Formula One into another shot at NASCAR.

Humpy Wheeler

One of the things that always concerned me when we had a race was somebody [a fan] in the infield taking a potshot at a driver with a rifle. It didn't matter who it was. Not particularly him, but anybody.

-- Humpy Wheeler

"Even in the '80s, things could still get out of hand -- particularly around a NASCAR track," Wheeler says.

More concerns about Ribbs' personal safety?

"Oh, Lord, yes!" Wheeler says. "One of the things that always concerned me when we had a race was somebody [a fan] in the infield taking a potshot at a driver with a rifle. It didn't matter who it was. Not particularly him, but anybody."

Ribbs returned for three Cup races, but "once again corporate America turned its back," Ribbs says, "and we had no support. It was not a good operation, but Bill Gardner meant well. NASCAR gave no support to the project at all."

The only hostility from the crowd came at notorious North Wilkesboro Speedway, in the heart of North Carolina moonshine country.

"During driver introductions I would say 50 percent of the crowd booed," Ribbs recalls. "And I thought that was so funny. Like, 'Wow, they know me down here.' And [Dale] Earnhardt was standing next to me. He looked at me and he had that wide grin of his, and he sort of dropped his head and shook it, like, 'Poor kid.' Oh, it was funny as hell. And that made me laugh even more. And then the crowd booed even more."

In 2006, at another North Carolina track, Hickory Motor Speedway, 16-year-old Marc Davis and a white rival were running 1-2, with Davis ahead, with eight laps remaining in a 200-lap race.

The white driver bumped Davis from the rear, causing him to swerve just enough to lose the lead. Soon after, in keeping with NASCAR's unwritten protocol of payback, Davis bumped the white driver and caused him to spin out. Both drivers were put at the back of the field and lost.

Portfolio.com reported on the incident that "there was an uproar among about a hundred fans, who stormed a fence surrounding the track, some of them chanting, 'Go home, nigger!' Several were ejected from the track."

"Marc doesn't like to talk about it; I don't like to talk about it; we've moved on," Harry Davis says. "I will not baggage NASCAR with that image. It has nothing to do with racing. It's a cultural thing."

Although Harry Davis acknowledges that "if you start or end your sentence with the n-word, that makes it racial," he quickly adds, "the reality is, it had nothing to do with winning the race; it had nothing to do with losing it. What happened on the track was 100 percent North Carolina short-track racing. It's a gentleman's thing to do. We were politely returning the favor [with the payback spinout].

"It was a racing incident that just got out of control. I will not baggage NASCAR with that image. NASCAR has made their position 100 percent clear on what they expect and what they want."

The Next 'Next' On Hold
Chase Austin, also 18, is the other most-often-mentioned black driver nearing the brink of a major breakthrough in NASCAR. He showed flashes of excellence driving for team owner a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/driver?seriesId=2&driverId=77">Rusty Wallace in the Camping World East series last year. He was bound for the Nationwide series this year, but his career went on hold when he and Wallace lost their sponsorship from Atlanta-based, minority-oriented home-building firm Atreus Homes due to the ongoing crises in the construction and home mortgage industries.

[+] EnlargeChase Austin
AP Photo/J. Pat CarterChase Austin had sponsorship lined up this year to race in the Nationwide Series, but the home-building and mortgage crises ate into that.

"We were going to run him in 15 [Nationwide] races this year," says Wallace, who is also a NASCAR analyst for ESPN. But then in the spring, "I got a phone call from John Beene, the owner of Atreus Homes. He said, 'Rusty, I've got a problem. This housing market has just fallen out, and I can't afford to do what I thought I could do.' It sent the whole team into a tailspin …

"When the funding went away, we had to make a decision. I called Chase. I said, 'Chase, I love you to death and you didn't do a damn thing wrong, buddy. But the sponsorship fell out.' … John felt horrible about the whole thing, but there was nothing we could do.

"All in all, John and I have put right at $1.6 million into Chase in the last year and a half."

Wallace paid off Austin's contract for this year, plus extra money for what he projected winnings might have been.

"There was no reason to string him along, because I couldn't do anything," Wallace says. "I think he has a lot of talent. I think with enough time and enough financing behind him, he can definitely be a star in NASCAR."

The Austin family, of Eudora, Kan., declined to be interviewed for this article, citing sensitivity of potential sponsorship deals. But the Austins did agree to publication here of incidents they'd mentioned previously, about racial insults while Chase was growing up racing.

When he was 7, in 1997, he was in a stall in a men's room at a non-NASCAR dirt track in Kansas, minutes after his father had won a race, when he heard white men talking at the urinal.

"I just hate to lose to that [epithet]," one said.

In 2003, when Chase was 13 and racing himself, at Volusia County Speedway in Florida, he and his father were working on their car in the pits when a white man, having painted himself in blackface as in a minstrel show, walked up and stood there staring at them for several minutes.

Chase and Steve Austin did the only thing they felt they could do: They went on about their business until the man finally left.

The Gibbs team has acquired solid sponsorship for Marc Davis, from ConAgra Foods' Slim Jim snack brand, for the Camping World East series.

And even with his career advancement on hold, there is hope for major financial backing for Chase Austin, with help from The Brand Coach, an Atlanta-based, all-minority, all-female marketing and public relations firm.

"Consumers drive everything," says Jai Stone, CEO of The Brand Coach, which targets minority consumers. "One of the things we find is that a lot of times, the consumers don't know there is a minority driver."

The idea is to get minority consumers tuned in to NASCAR racing, and to Chase Austin as a personality, and thereby attract sponsorship for Austin.

And corporate attitudes today, Stone says, are vastly different from those in the era of Willy T. Ribbs.

"We're getting more socially conscious sponsorship from corporations than we were 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even five years ago," she says.

"We find that urban and youth markets right now are sorely in need of superheroes," Stone continues. "Chase Austin is that. He has the charisma. He keeps his nose clean. He's a clean-cut, good kid who's doing something great."

Unfinished Business
Thirty years after their first attempt at a breakthrough in NASCAR diversity, Willy T. Ribbs and Humpy Wheeler see the current situation differently.

Of the Drive for Diversity, Ribbs says, "You've got this little window-dressing operation, and it's not cutting it … It's a mannequin. It's a front that says, 'Well, look, we've got this.' But it's like a Hollywood set -- all front and no back."

"It's something," Wheeler says. "I mean, we had nothing before. This at least is something." But long term, "The only way this thing is going to work is to get the diversity drivers in cars like Bandoleros and Legends at an early age."

There's two or three thousand white kids racing Bandoleros, Legends and things like that. A few of them will come out of it [to the major leagues]. But not many. We're going to have to have two or three thousand minority kids out there racing. When we do, there's going to be a Lewis Hamilton in there.

-- Humpy Wheeler

Indeed, Harry Davis credits Wheeler as the single determining influence on his son's career. Wheeler invented the semi-miniature race cars, with four-cylinder engines, and built mini-tracks inside superspeedways such as Lowe's, Texas and Atlanta for regular competition among youthful drivers.

"You've got to get kids starting at 8, 9, 10 years old," Wheeler says. "Marc Davis and Chase Austin started like that."

But the minority numbers are tiny compared with the volume of white kids racing at junior levels.

"There's two or three thousand white kids racing Bandoleros, Legends and things like that," Wheeler says. "A few of them will come out of it [to the major leagues]. But not many.

"We're going to have to have two or three thousand minority kids out there racing," Wheeler continues. "When we do, there's going to be a Lewis Hamilton in there."

He refers to Formula One's brightest young star and most dominant driver, who is English, of African-Caribbean descent. Hamilton was noticed at age 13, as a go-kart prodigy, by racing executives Ron Dennis of McLaren and Norbert Haug of Mercedes-Benz.

Jadotte and NASCAR are enhancing the movement toward minority youth racing with Jadotte's "Go Racing America" program.

The goal is "increasing the number of families who participate in youth racing," Jadotte says. "We're building partnerships with the World Karting Association, 600 Racing [Wheeler's association for Bandoleros and Legends cars] and the Quarter-Midget Association of America, to invite more kids in, including minority kids.

"Just last week, we had 30 African-American kids from Charlotte out for a go-karting experience," Jadotte continues, "and then we went out to see some of the Summer Shootout." That's Lowe's Motor Speedway's summerlong extravaganza for kids in Bandoleros and Legends cars.

Marc Davis is the prototype minority driver who came up through precisely these same ranks. So his father fully realizes the financial outlay required from the very beginning.

"To put your kid in a stick-and-ball sport, it'll cost you maybe $40, on a good day," Harry Davis says. "You buy a pair of shorts and a pair of tennis shoes … he needs a baseball glove …

"But to get into even a Bandolero, you're looking at $2,000 worth of stuff to put on the kid before he even gets into the car to see if he likes it.

"The HANS, the head and neck restraint, is $1,000. Then you can't wear a $99 helmet, because you've got more than a $99 head. A young kid needs a smaller helmet, so when he stops the helmet doesn't carry his head forward and break his neck. So the helmet is $500.

"Then he needs the fireproof long underwear, the fireproof shoes, the fireproof gloves and the fire suit itself. And you're over $2,000, without taking any shortcuts. And that's before you find out if he likes it or not.

"So I am adamant that, more than anything, it's about the dollars, and how you get your kid into a sport where the overhead is so great you can't afford to put him in the sport."

Couldn't NASCAR be more proactive, especially financially? Wouldn't Daugherty like to see enormous cash outlays for affirmative action?

"Of course!" Daugherty says. "Heck, I'd like to see NASCAR go out and sponsor five teams that have African-American drivers. And I'd like to be the first team owner in line. I'd sleep a lot easier at night, and probably have a lot more money in my pocket.

"I don't know if that's the fairest thing to do, though," he continues, "for the competitors who have spent their years toiling in this sport, trying to participate in this sport, struggling in this sport, going in and out of this sport.

"I'd like to see them be able to create opportunities. But even if you created opportunities, where does it start and where does it end? If you start doing that, then it becomes a question of, 'OK, then, is the next race fixed?' If a guy goes out and runs third, well, did NASCAR [do that] because they're putting that guy in that car -- you know what I'm saying? Then the whole ball of twine starts to unravel."

Daugherty reckons that "the biggest thing NASCAR can do is continue to try to grow the grassroots programs that give people an opportunity, at an early age, to get involved."

Is the horizon of true minority representation as far off as Wheeler projects?

"Oh! Without question," Daugherty says.

"NASCAR," Wheeler says, "and all the other sanctioning bodies in racing have always kind of taken the attitude of, 'This is America, we're open, we'll welcome everybody into it, but we're not going to give anybody anything.'

"And that attitude hasn't changed. And frankly I don't see it changing. I don't see it changing in the IRL, NASCAR or any other levels."

Past, Present and Future
When Grant v. NASCAR will come up on the docket is unclear, but the trying of the case in the media took a fresh turn this week with an Associated Press report that Mauricia Grant had a restraining order filed against her in 2002. She also was arrested for driving under the influence in Los Angeles in 2004 and was charged for driving on a suspended license in Atlanta in 2007 only weeks before she was fired by NASCAR.

[+] EnlargeMauricia Grant
AP Photo/Laura ReitzMauricia Grant worked as a technical inspector from January 2005 until she was fired in October 2007. She is suing NASCAR for $225 million, alleging racial and sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination.

Grant's past has been called into question because of the lawsuit. NASCAR's past has been called into question by Willy T. Ribbs.

"It's common knowledge," Ribbs says, "that the founder of NASCAR was supportive of George Wallace, the segregationist. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Bill France Sr.'s active support of Wallace might not be as widely known as Ribbs reckons, but it's true. After the Alabama governor built his state's portion of Interstate 20 to facilitate access to Talladega Superspeedway, "Big Bill" France became active in his presidential campaigns of 1972 and 1976. He was Wallace's major voice on the floor of the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami.

And in 1976, for the most famous NASCAR race of all, the Daytona 500 in which Richard Petty and David Pearson crashed coming to the checkered flag and Pearson limped his wrecked car to the win, the grand marshal was George Wallace.

Big Bill died in 1992. Brian France, his grandson, is the third-generation czar of NASCAR.

"I think you would be hard-pressed to find another chief executive officer of a company in this country who has been more out front, more on the record, in the last four or five years, on the issue of diversity, than Brian France," Jadotte says.

The younger France's mantra is simple. He has said often, "We want to look and feel more like America."

If not now, when?

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.

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