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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The only color that matters in NASCAR today is green -- as in cold hard cash; not skin color

Picture above: Darrell Wallace Jr., who has a deal with Joe Gibbs Racing and made his Nationwide debut at Iowa this past May

The bottom line is simple to most true NASCAR fans in the modern era: The only color that matters these days is green. If you have a sponsor and some talent, you'll probably be in a decent ride and have a chance to advance -- since money and talent are what makes people win. It's about money, not skin color. That was sadly the case in the era of Wendell Scott, but thankfully those days are gone in this sport.

Yet to the outside world, the NASCAR world looks very racially undiverse. For the most part, they are right, as it is mostly white, but unlike the olden days it's got nothing to do with racism, as I just noted. It's about money. If you can attract sponsorship, you'll be in a ride and likely advance up the ladder no matter what your gender, race or creed. This is true right now of young Darrell Wallace Jr., a minority driver who still somehow finds himself signed by Joe Gibbs Racing for some races. Why? He is extremely talented, and talent and good finishes attract sponsors, regardless of the driver's skin color. He should make it to Cup one day, as he is very young and will only get faster as the years progress.

I'm curious to see if ESPN overdramatizes this or tells the story straight. Those who are interested can watch the segment on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" on Sunday at 9 a.m. EST.

The show will feature a look into the Drive for Diversity program launched in 2004 to develop minorities and women in the sport. None of the drivers in the program has made it to Sprint Cup, which bothers some people, but realistically it's very hard to make it to Cup. Most people don't.

There are a ton of non-minorities who have no shot at ever driving in Cup; so I wouldn't call that a knock on the program, which has given minorities a chance to race at the lower and mid levels of the sport. Bottom line: To race in Cup, you need many many millions in sponsorship, and that kind of money doesn't grow on trees. Plus, it's the best of the best. Even drivers who are just "good" can't crack the Cup barrier; you have to be great.

Lenny Miller, the first African-American team owner in NASCAR history to win a track championship, says NASCAR’s diversity effort is "ineffective, because after a decade they haven’t produced hardly any drivers with any sustainability that can move up the ranks to the Cup level.”

I think it will happen eventually (Wallace is my prediction to do it first), but it's about a lot more than race when you start to talk about Cup. I think people forget that sometimes when talking about this topic.

Still, this show should be an interesting watch, and I'm curious about the case of Michael Rodriguez, who said he is Puerto Rican but got bumped from the program for looking too white.
“Ultimately, I think it was because I was too white and didn’t fit their stereotype of what a Puerto Rican should look like.”

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