The New Face of NASCAR

Race, money, and politics in motor sports' fast lane

criticism from the fans. Traditionally, only American-made cars could race NASCAR.)

But not everyone is impressed. “Bill Lester did not perform well,” says Cherise Belnavis-Johnson, vice president of Belnavis Associates, the company that holds the minority stake in Rousch Racing. “Granted, yes, he’s black, but if you’re not performing well on the track, you’re hurting more than you’re helping. There is no question in my mind that we are being watched to see if we belong, and that is usually determined by on-track performance.”

Lester is under pressure to perform, particularly with so many wanting him to do well. As a result, he has received intense scrutiny. Martin, Rensi, Warmack, and Claiborne have all said that Lester has been unduly ridiculed, with criticism ranging from his driving performance to how he represents his sponsors. But drivers can’t win by themselves. They need quality cars and crews. Heavily financed teams can afford to hire the best engineers and the best pit crews.

Martin says that Lester’s performance record is more an indication of funding than skill. “Bill’s racing team for last year was underfunded,” he states. Although Dodge did award Lester $2.5 million, most estimates for fielding a truck in the series range between $3 and $5 million. Warmack takes it step further. “Minority drivers, when they have been linked with a team in NASCAR, have clearly not had the same equipment as their bosses,” he offers. “And, yes, the argument can be made that all vehicles are subject to a particular standard, but it’s also true that some owners spend more on some drivers than they spend on others.”

Bill was not handpicked out of a crowd as some may think, says Claiborne. “Bill competed to get where he is. Some people would argue that Bill isn’t black enough. I think people have seen Bill represent himself clean and without controversy, and for that reason, he may not represent a kid in West Philly, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t represent African Americans in motor sports. I think he does a terrific job of doing that.”

As for NASCAR, unconfirmed reports at this writing indicate that the organization is negotiating with Earvin &quot
;Magic” Johnson — an African American business giant who has influence on corporations, but no experience in motor sports or diversity — to head its diversity program. NASCAR may believe that if you get a big enough black name to back your efforts, everyone will believe your intentions. They may have miscalculated on Jackson.

The truth is, NASCAR doesn’t need an African American front man–it needs a business plan and a strategy for diversity, which includes controls and metrics for goals and successes. Diversity is not altruistic; today it is a legitimate business practice that all corporations serious about expansion and adding to their bottom line have embraced. NASCAR’s bottom line will be the true indicator of how the organization moves the needle on diversity. And in that case, change is inevitable. Is a Tiger Woods or Serena Williams of racing on the horizon? History

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