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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.


Buie said...

Nice post. I have always been an F1 fan and I am A member of Alpha Phi Alpha. I added your post to a frequent email that I send out to the brotherhood and list serves.

Anonymous said...

Nice. This guy really has something to say....let's hear more...

Heel Toe said...

Buie, Thank you for the reply.