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COMMENTARY

Improving the race card in NASCAR -- finally

July 12, 2006|Warren Brown | Washington Post

The National Assn. for Stock Car Auto Racing has been one of my least favorite organizations -- mostly because I've always felt excluded from it.

It was a Southern white man's thing, replete with Confederate flags and rebel yells, both of which, to me, translated to "Blacks not welcome here."

I would not have minded any of that. But it turns out that I absolutely love auto racing. I'm addicted to it, fascinated by it. I can hardly make my way around the lowest oval of a banked race track, but I have visions of one day finishing first in NASCAR's Nextel Cup and taking the checkered flag at Le Mans.

I've had such dreams since childhood in New Orleans. But that city was a place of trashed hopes for many black children growing up in the 1950s and '60s.

You kept seemingly impossible dreams to yourself. It was kid stuff eventually replaced by adult resentment and disdain. But now I can smile.

NASCAR is opening up, thanks to the faith of the family of Wendell Oliver Scott, the first and only black man to win a NASCAR championship race. Thanks also to the talent of young, highly skilled dreamers such as 15-year-old Marc Davis, who in March finished first in the Limited Late Model stock car race at Hickory, N.C., becoming the second Drive for Diversity driver to win that honor.

And especially thanks to Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, who, backed by institutions such as Howard University and businesses such as Pocono International Raceway Inc. in Long Pond, Pa., is giving minority and women drivers a fair shot at becoming bona fide NASCAR competitors.

Gibbs, a three-time winner of NASCAR's premier Nextel Cup Series, is no stranger to auto racing. In 2003, he launched his Drive for Diversity program. A number of companies gave their support. On that point, I digress.

There recently was a wrongheaded effort to bar Toyota from participation in NASCAR because Toyota is a "foreign" company and because NASCAR originated in 1948 as an American-vehicle-only stock car race. I can think of no objection more objectionable.

Forget that Toyota has contributed billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy. Any company that is American enough to understand that America should stand for equality and fair play and that NASCAR should be open to all Americans is American enough for me. Diversity is diversity.

In NASCAR, participation should not concern ethnicity or skin color. The checkered flag is black and white. The green flag starts the race. Green money keeps it going.

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