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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Is Racing Colorblind?

The nation just celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2008. Why is there such a racial disparity in auto racing?

The nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s day of observance this past Monday. This marks a national holiday to commemorate King’s monumental efforts in civil rights in the United States. While some may see this as just another day off from work or school, for many others this represented a day of reflection. Many aspects of modern life would not be afforded to African- Americans and others without the work of Martin Luther King Jr.

As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, like Martin Luther King Jr., the holiday is of an added personal importance. I view the holiday as a chance to reflect on the opportunities that I enjoy because of his sacrifices. When it comes to racing, I wonder if the sport has ignored King’s teachings.

As much as I would like to say that the lack of minority drivers, team owners, and designers is because of institutional racism, this is not an accurate assessment. There are many reasons for the lack of diversity in all motorsports but the main culprit is MONEY.

Let’s face it; the cost of auto racing is the single biggest factor in determining the participants in a race. In recent times, hockey, golf, and tennis were not viewed as inclusive sports. There may have been people in power that did not want
minority involvement but the limiting factor was money. Granted there are instances in sport that cannot be classified as anything but racist such as the rules against black people playing golf at Augusta Country Club.

The truth is not everyone can afford green fees, ice time, and lessons to compete at a high level in these sports. I will use hockey as an example. The equipment, ice time fees, and travel automatically exclude many people who would otherwise be welcomed to play. Recently, equipment has been donated and ice fees waived to attract more diverse and urban youth. That is great and I am very excited to see this but that would never work in racing.

Racing is expensive and it will always be. To be fast, you must have the best equipment and the best engineers. Racing used to be seen as a hobby. Sometimes, guys would work on a friend’s car for free on the weekends. Those days are as dead as the dodo. Motorsports is a big business and the cost of doing business is steadily increasing. Most of today’s racing heroes started by racing go-karts. A new shifter kart can run from $2500- 10,000. Not many people can afford that cost for something that a child may not enjoy and quit.

Racing has made strides to welcome everybody. NASCAR has initiated its Drive for Diversity program and other series have followed suit. Martin Luther King would probably say that there is still work to do. Thanks to King’s work and efforts by the racing sanctioning bodies there is more access into the auto racing industry. It has become less about the color of someone’s skin and more about the content of his wallet.
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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bill Lester Returns to his Roots for 08

Racing season is upon us once again. NASCAR’s crews and drivers in each of its divisions have begun testing at Daytona.

Racing season is upon us once again. NASCAR’s crews and drivers in each of its divisions have begun testing at Daytona. However, this may be exciting for some observers, but hardcore fans long for real racing. The Rolex 24 at Daytona is a delectable appetizer for hungry race fans. Each year more and more of NASCAR and open wheeled stars tangle with some of the best endurance racing drivers in the world in one of the most prestigious tests of man and machine.

The entry list for past 24 hour races at Daytona read like a who’s who of NASCAR champions. There was Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, and Bobby Labonte. Seeing those drivers out of their element and behind the wheel of a different sort of racing machine is a testament to the caliber of driver in NASCAR. A name that deserves to be mentioned in NASCAR circles but never had top-flight equipment is Bill Lester.

Bill Lester honed his craft behind the wheel of sports cars for years before making a splash in the Craftsman Truck Series. He was able to make history in NASCAR several seasons ago when he became the first African- American to qualify for a race in NASCAR’s premiere series at Atlanta. Lester also became the first African- American to surpass $1 million in career earnings. Things seemed to be progressing in the truck series for Lester after landing rides with Bobby Hamilton Racing and Bill Davis Racing. Then suddenly, Bill Lester was gone.

Bill Lester fans fear not. He will be back in a racecar at Daytona January 26th for the Rolex 24. We have grown accustomed to seeing Lester race at Daytona, but in a truck. For those that have not seen him drive a sports car, prepare to be dazzled. Some may doubt his talent because he never won a race in the trucks, but he is a very talented driver.

Unfortunately, black drivers have been forced to spend their best years in other series hidden away from racing’s mainstream. Bill Lester has signed to race the full Grand Am schedule for 2008. A strong showing in the 24 at Daytona as well as a solid season may land Lester in several NASCAR events this year. I hope so!

Lester Riley- Scott Lexus photo courtesy of Brian Cleary and Grand- Am Racing
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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Happy New Year's Race Fans!

Wonder what's in store for the 2008 racing season? Here is a suggestion for those who are ready for the season to start.

New Year’s brings about resolutions and optimism regarding the new calendar year. My hopes for 2008, as they relate to auto racing, are almost identical to what they were last year. I always hope for safe and competitive racing, while seeing fresh faces at the forefront of all major motorsports. In 2007, Baby New Year gave Formula 1 fans Lewis Hamilton. NASCAR fans were given the “Car of Tomorrow,” and Indy style racing fans… well?

This year, NASCAR fans can expect some old faces in new places. The only problem is the new places are perennial powers and the additions should only make the Hendrick, Gibbs, and several other teams stronger. Thankfully, we do not have to wait until almost June to find out what is in store for stock car fans. Many teams have already begun rigorous testing at Daytona.

One of the things that I would really like to see in 2008 is a concerted effort by those in power to send a viable American driver overseas. Each year, we are teased with promises and new drivers that are supposed to move America into global racing respectability. Each year, these hopes are dashed whether by poor equipment, poor choices, or overrated drivers.

The “Stars of Tomorrow” program founded by Jeremy Shaw has again crowned a Team USA scholarship winner. The list of Team USA winners is rather impressive until you look at what they were able to do against international competition. Joel Miller is a driver that I will be watching this year. It sounds like he possesses the talent to make the world take notice. Another interesting driver, who already is embroiled in international motorsport, is Jonathan Summerton of Team USA in the A1GP Series.

No matter what type of racing you like, the New Year brings about hope for the upcoming season. I understand that there is no sport whose season is year round but I sure wish there was a way to shorten racing's off-season. Granted, I have not taken part in a 36-race season so that is easy for me to say. Enjoy the 2008 race seasons!

Miller photo courtesy of Joel Miller International Website and Michael Booth
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