Sports Business Journal reported last week that NASCAR is attempting to secure sponsorship for free-agent drivers Bubba Wallace and Danica Patrick, an effort that includes “trying to entice its own sponsors to extend relationships with the drivers.”
NASCAR has traditionally assisted teams in sponsor procurement. In the early days of the sport, founder Bill France, Sr. would often line up local sponsors and “travel money” to assist drivers down the road to the next race. He also vouched for competitors when they approached local banks for loans to finance their racing operations.
Procuring multi-million dollar sponsorships directly, however, is something entirely new, and last week’s report prompted cries of favoritism from some corners of the sport.
NASCAR’s efforts on behalf of Patrick and Wallace (an African-American graduate of the sport’s Drive for Diversity program) are probably unfair, since other drivers do not receive the same level of assistance. But in the 60-odd year history of NASCAR, “fair” has not gotten the job done.
It’s time to do more.
In the year 2017, it is unconscionable that the headline Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has just one woman and no persons of color in the starting lineup.
The Drive 4 Diversity has begun to show signs of life, with Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez now full-time competitors in the MENCS ranks. It has been more successful in producing minority crewmembers, but it has not done nearly enough, fast enough.
|The Force sisters are major stars.|
Virtually every other major form of motorsport boasts women and minorities in their starting fields on a weekly basis. Willy T. Ribbs (Sports Cars) Lewis Hamilton (Formula One) and Antron Brown (NHRA) have all won national and/or world championships. Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey and Erica Enders-Stevens are former NHRA World Champions, while Shelly Anderson, Melanie Troxell, Leah Pritchett, Alexis Dejoria and the Force sisters – Ashley, Courtney and Brittany – are all winners in NHRA National event competition. Lyn St. James won twice at the 24 Hours of Daytona and again at the 12 Hours of Sebring, while Jutta Kleinschmidt won the grueling Dakar Rally in 2001.
In marked contrast, prior to Wallace’s four “fill-in” races with Richard Petty Motorsports earlier this season, NASCAR had not had a black face in the starting field since Bill Lester made two fleeting starts for Bill Davis Racing in 2006.
At a time when women and minorities play major, winning roles in virtually every other branch of motorsports, NASCAR’s optics are beyond abhorrent. Is it any wonder that outsiders view stock car racing as an exclusively white-male sport?
We can do better, and we must.
|Wallace delivered for RPM|
Bubba Wallace deserves a shot at the brass ring. In four 2017 starts at RPM in place of the injured Aric Almirola, the Mobile, Alabama native finished 26th at Pocono Raceway, 19th at Michigan, 15th at Daytona and 11th at Kentucky. He improved in every start, despite racing with a crew and crew chief that he had never met before. His average finish for those four races was 17.8; nearly three spots better than Almirola’s season average of 20.5.
Almirola is expected to move to the elite Stewart-Haas Racing organization next season, with full-season sponsorship from Smithfield Foods. Wallace, meanwhile, saw his Roush Fenway Racing NXS team shut down after just 12 races this season due to lack of sponsorship.
He was fourth in the championship standings at the time.
Patrick has admittedly not been as successful as most observers -- and even Danica herself -- would have liked. But over the last six decades, thousands of white male drivers have been given the opportunity to fail at the highest level of our sport. That opportunity has been extended to less than a half-dozen women.
|Did Johanna Long get a fair shot?|
When Erik Jones won the 2012 Snowball Derby, that win led directly to a handful of ARCA starts and a seat with Kyle Busch’s potent NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. When Johanna Long won the same race in 2010, it earned her two part-time seasons with the chronically underfunded ML Motorsports Xfinity Series team and an unheralded exit from the sport.
If that doesn’t bother you, it should. Something, my friends, is not adding up.
Critics say it is not NASCAR’s job to help some drivers, but not others.
“Just wait,” they say. “Give it some time. The sport will integrate itself, eventually.”
Well, we’ve been waiting since 1948. The strategy of patience has failed, and it’s time to take action.
Other teams may react badly to NASCAR’s new, hands-on policy of selective sponsorship assistance, wondering why the sanctioning body never helped them the way they are reportedly helping Wallace and Patrick.
That reaction, while perhaps justified, is flawed. What team owners should be thinking is, “Maybe we should find a Danica or a Bubba of our own.”
After 68 years of exclusion, it’s time for NASCAR to tilt the scales unfairly in the other direction for a while, by any means necessary.