Black ExperienceSportsStacy M. Brown

Motor Sports in America: Do Black Lives Still Matter? (Pt. 2)

Last year, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the civil unrest that ensued, civil rights organizations, business entities and sports organizations came out in full force to support abolishing racial injustices, racism and police brutality.

At that time, the NNPA had an opportunity to interview Chris Miles, Global Motorsport marketing adviser, diversity and inclusion strategist for African Renaissance and Diaspora Network, and principal owner of Starting Grid, Inc.

Miles provided his thoughts on the diversity initiatives created by the various motorsport sanctioning bodies worldwide, hoping to welcome a new generation of fans, industry professionals, and sponsors.

One year later, we reached out to Chris to get his candid opinion on the state of motor sports worldwide and identify if there have been any changes for the better.

Here is part two of our conversation with Chris Miles (Click here for part one):

NNPA Newswire: In your opinion, what would you attribute the dismal success rate of NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” program not having other Black drivers competing in NASCAR’s other series?

Chris Miles: NASCAR’s leadership, without question. Blame must be placed at the top of the heap, and it begins with former Chairman/CEO Brian France, to now NASCAR Chairman/CEO Jim France, Brian’s uncle, to even Brian’s sister Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation and Executive Vice Chairman of NASCAR.

ISC used to be the publicly traded parent company of NASCAR, of which the France family owned about 35% of ISC and managing control.

Today NASCAR now owns ISC through a stock purchase and has taken it back to being privately owned.

That within itself is an interesting turn of events if you ask me. Nevertheless, you start with France’s, and then you blame all of the sponsors that have paid millions of dollars in support of the D4D program and have allowed this misappropriation of funds to take place for all these years.

Why has no one questioned where all the money has gone and to whom? It does not take a rocket scientist to know more people have benefitted financially, far greater than any driver, since the inception of the D4D program.

That said, what NASCAR’s D4D program does prove is what I have been saying and that is this is 100% an “intentional” program, and nowhere close to being “authentic”; because where else on the planet can a Black man, Max Siegel, have another full-time job as the CEO of USA Track and Field, be the head of the D4D program since 2009, be in control of millions of dollars, and only produce one Black driver in their top tier championships without being fired for incompetence?

NNPA: So it’s safe to say, in your opinion, there is no real sincerity in NASCAR’s D4D program?

CM: Absolutely not!

It’s been in existence 17 years and has nothing to show for it, except one driver in their three touring championships, a handful of pit crew workers and five or six drivers, per year, getting a chance to compete in one of the lowest, and cheapest, entry-level stock car series.

Although having said that, I guess it has proven one thing. Either NASCAR’s D4D selection committee, who picks the driver candidates, have gotten it wrong these past 17 years — or they have failed to find another Darrell Wallace, Sr. who has the financial means to pay for another driver to make it up the ranks.

NNPA: That is a good point.

CM: So, in comparison, let’s look at it this way. Lewis Hamilton became the first Black driver in Formula One’s history back in 2007. Here’s a list of his accomplishments in 14 years of racing in Formula One.

Lewis is a seven-time Formula One World Champion, he is the all-time leader in race wins with 99, he has 173 podiums and 101 pole positions, and he now makes $55 million a year!

You tell me if NASCAR’s D4D program is an “intentional” or “authentic” driver development program?

NNPA: You mean to tell me that brother makes $55 million a year for driving a race car?

CM: He damn sure does, and he has earned every penny of it too. Now I’ll say this without letting Formula One off the hook.

The series itself has not been responsible for Lewis Hamilton’s historic career. And to this day, Formula One does not have a driver development program for persons of color.

They have a complete program for women but nothing to support persons of African descent. A gentleman named Ron Dennis headed up the Formula One powerhouse McLaren Racing that had won multiple world championships, many races won and had the best drivers racing for them, which included legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

So again, to make a comparison, Ron Dennis is not as wealthy as Roger Penske. Still, he utilized his position within a World Championship winning organization to embrace the Black Brit Lewis Hamilton, assist his ascension in the sport by signing him at the young age of 13 —.

In contrast, that thought never, ever crossed Roger Penske’s mind to have a driver of color race for him.

NNPA: Well, I’m glad you brought up Lewis, and the point about Penske is noted, we’ll get back to them in a moment, but let me ask this before we do — given the lack of Black participants in NASCAR, do you at least believe Darrell Wallace encouraging NASCAR to abandon the Confederate flag from flying at race tracks will help shift the narrative of NASCAR being racists?

CM: I am so glad you brought that up because, to be honest, when all this racial narrative in motorsports was going on, along with the civil unrest, I was disappointed in how Lewis and Darrell handled the situation with their actions at that time?

NNPA: Really, why is that? CM: Well, first, let me answer the question about the confederate flag.

In no way, shape or form does Darrell Wallace, Jr. have the clout and juice to make NASCAR do anything, ever in life.

No driver in NASCAR’s history, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, or Jeff Gordon, has had the power to tell NASCAR what to do, period.

I, along with many within my inner circle of this business, believed wholeheartedly Darrell was used as a pawn regarding NASCAR’s removal of the Confederate Flag, and we equally believe the “noose” incident that followed was too convenient and suspect from the start.

There was way too much orchestrated pageantry associated with Darrell and NASCAR, where it seemed as if they were trying to keep lockstep with how Formula One was acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement, globally, to how Lewis had embraced the movement.

NNPA: But why were you disappointed with Lewis and Darrell’s actions last year?

CM: Because Lewis and Darrell both acted as if they were the first two to endure racism and discrimination in motorsports, when there is a long history of documented racism and discrimination in motorsports dating back to the 1920s when Chicago businessman William Rucker founded the Colored Speedway Association, just so Black race car drivers and mechanics could compete on a barnstorming tour throughout the Midwest called the “Gold and Glory Sweepstakes,” since the lone sanctioning body at that time, the American Automobile Association, discriminated against, not only Black drivers but Black motorists.

There was a documentary on this called The Forgotten Race, which chronicles some real early history of African American participation within motorsports, along with some of the discrimination these racers endured.

NNPA: Netflix even had a movie out last year about the Black racer Willy T. Ribbs.

CM: Exactly! During the same time, Lewis and Darrell were social justice warriors. Netflix had already debuted in February “Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story,” which can still be seen on Netflix.

Willy T., as you know, was the first African American to ever qualify for the Indy 500, 30 years ago this past May, which is a whole other story regarding INDYCAR and their so-called diversity initiative. He was the first Black driver to test a Formula One car.

Still, neither Lewis or Darrell, to this day, ever publicly acknowledged they viewed the film and/or thanked Willy for being a modern-day history-maker, which certainly helped pave the way for them to enjoy the camaraderie they each have within their respective paddocks.

For me, regarding Darrell specifically, a simple gesture of acknowledgment about seeing “Uppity” would have gone a long way during those tense times last year.

But by not acknowledging Willy, and his ability to overcome far more egregious racist atrocities during his career, in my opinion, was disrespectful and showed that Darrell was making it all about him.

If you don’t believe me, watch “Uppity” on Netflix.

NNPA: Great documentary for sure. Now at the time of our interview last year, you shared that INDYCAR had just announced a diversity program — how would you classify their program compared to NASCAR?

CM: The “Race for Equality and Change” is a mirror image of NASCAR’s “Drive For Diversity” program because it is led by individuals who have other jobs.

This is not their focus, no matter what they say, and it will tragically yield the same results — because it was doomed from the start.

NNPA: How so?

CM: Penske Entertainment Corporation created this program out of thin air after Willy T. blasted them in a July 1, 2020, IndyStar interview following INDYCAR’s halfhearted statement regarding their firm stand against prejudice and racism weeks after George Floyd’s death.

Their statement was nearly identical to the one NASCAR put out days earlier. They were not a leader, but a perennial follower. Nevertheless, Willy was spot on in his comments on July 1, stating that F1 was leading the way with diversity because of Lewis Hamilton.

NASCAR was 50 years too late, but they had Darrell Wallace, and INDYCAR was in last place because they had nothing.

But then miraculously three days later, when INDYCAR and NASCAR were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway competing for the first time together at the same racetrack, Penske Entertainment Corporation announces the “Race for Equality and Change” initiative, with it being funded by $1 million — give me a frickin’ break.

It was an absolute embarrassment and an insult to our intelligence. Now I guarantee you they will say this initiative was in the works for weeks but given how they presented the program and said there would be more information coming out in the coming weeks, just let you know it was thrown together to try and save face.

NNPA: But Roger Penske is a successful businessman, is he not?

CM: He absolutely is. Roger is a billionaire, and kudos to him and his success — but that has nothing to do with how he runs his racing business and his effort to promote his farcical diversity initiative as “authentic.”

NNPA: So, do you not believe INDYCAR’s diversity program has a chance to be successful?

CM: I’ll say this. When you do not live your life every day, as you now portray you do, everyone will eventually realize the truth behind the magic trick.

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