How NASCAR became a leader for diversity in sports


Aidan Tyksinski, Staff

Header Image: NASCAR

Courtesy of Nascar

As I watched the Daytona 500 this weekend, the first and by far the biggest race of the NASCAR season, it made me remember the first NASCAR race that I was excited to watch. The race was Martinsville in 2020. Although I was excited, it was not just because it was the first time this historic track was being used at night, nor was it because it was the only live sport happening that night due to the pandemic. 

I was excited to watch because earlier that day, NASCAR officials announced that fans could no longer wave Confederate flags on race days. It was a move that no one expected, but in the wake of the George Floyd cases, the heads of NASCAR realized that it was an important step to highlight that they, as an organization, were dedicated to being a more inclusive group.

While the banning of the Confederate flag was huge news, NASCAR has been working on trying to diversify the sport for many years. For as long as anyone can remember, NASCAR had long been a sport dominated by white men, both on and off the track. Prior to 2020, only one black man (Wendell Scott Sr.) had ever won a NASCAR Cup race, which he did all the way back in  1964. In between Scott’s win to the turn of the century, there were no other permanent minority drivers in the Cup Series. Clearly, NASCAR had a diversity problem. So, in the early 2000s, they decided to fix it.

In 2004, NASCAR created Drive for Diversity, a program dedicated to getting more minority drivers to experience driving, owning and working for NASCAR teams. The program was also created to help those in lower-income families be able to get the resources to drive without having to put their own money into racing. After 18 years, the program has been largely a success. 

Three of the best racers for the NASCAR Cup Series today went through the Drive for Diversity program at some point in their career. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., who last season became the second African American racer to win a Cup Series race, was part of the program in 2010. Kyle Larson, whose mother is Japanese-American, participated in the program in 2012. Daniel Suarez, a Mexican-American racer, was part of Drive for Diversity in 2013 and 2014. Suarez has one top-five finish and four top-10 finishes in his Cup Series career, while Larson finished 2021 as the regular season and overall champion.

This isn’t to say NASCAR hasn’t had a few bumps in the road with their program. The sport has only ever had one full-time woman driver in the Cup Series (Danica Patrick), and in 2020 Kyle Larson was suspended for the entire season after using a racial slur during an E-Sports race while the actual season was shut down from the pandemic. However, the number of female drivers at the lower levels and NASCAR’s swift action against Larson shows that the sport is not messing around when it comes to diversity and racial sensitivity.

While leagues like the NHL and MLB are struggling to get more minority athletes into the sport and the NFL is facing heavy criticism over the lack of Black coaches in the league, NASCAR is showing the sports world that diversity can be accomplished without using affirmative action or making false promises to players about what they will do to make the league more diverse. While the Cup Series and NASCAR have a long way to go, the sport is making strides that no one thought was possible 20 years ago, and that is an accomplishment everyone can appreciate.   

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