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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Side by Side: Is Racism NASCAR’s Responsibility to Investigate?

Editor’s Note : The following is a special edition of Frontstretch‘s Side by Side. Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!

Today’s Question: NASCAR suspended Nationwide No. 62 team’s crew chief Bryan Berry last Thursday, citing Section 12-1: “Actions detrimental to stock car racing… involved in an altercation with another team”. It was later revealed through various media outlets that Berry allegedly said a racial slur in reference to Marc Davis, the 19-year old driver of the No. 10. Since the announcement, there has been sporadic coverage of the suspension by the major NASCAR networks and no official statement by the sanctioning body.

Is it NASCAR’s responsibility to publish what precise actions resulted in a suspension – specifically when racism is involved? Further, does it help the sport to discuss this explosive topic, or does it just keep an old injury fresh with no hope of healing in the future?

NASCAR Needs To Remain Silent When Incidents Are Unclear

Before we even get into this topic, let’s set one thing straight: When NASCAR announces that they are indefinitely suspending a competitor from the sport, for any reason, there needs to be a crystal clear picture presented as to why the suspension was handed out. That it was not the case when Bryan Berry was suspended is unacceptable… and there needs be no debate here that NASCAR needs to communicate its penalties a whole lot better.

With that said, where there needs to be debate, and a lot of it, is with the decision NASCAR made to suspend Bryan Berry in the first place. Because frankly, his suspension and the aimless series of events and statements that have followed make it clear that NASCAR rushed to make a judgment it did not need to make.

Let’s assume for a minute that Berry did, in fact, direct a racial slur at Davis following the NNS race at Nashville. Is that proof positive that NASCAR’s faceless “racist” mentality is still alive and kicking? No. It’s simply proof positive that racing still manages to boil competitors’ blood.

And who can blame Berry for being heated? He only had to watch a car that he built and that was running in the top 15 all but destroyed late in the race because Davis made perhaps the most boneheaded move the Nationwide Series has seen since Kevin Lepage blended into oncoming traffic at Talladega last April. Livid to see a good finish and car go up in smoke because of an embarrassing rookie mistake, Berry did what so many before him have done: he confronted Davis after the race to give him a piece of his mind.

From what witnesses of the incident have said, Berry’s comments towards Davis escalated as he ranted… because Davis said nothing to provoke and/or attempt to stop it in response. That may demonstrate composure on the youngster’s part, but it also means something else… that he didn’t own up to his and his team’s mistake that cost the No. 62 a solid finish. The fact that Berry culminated his rant with an alleged racial slur is certainly not behavior to be excused or condoned. However, it’s also very consistent with the seemingly-ignored possibility that Berry was just plain mad, and wanted to cut his fellow competitor down as harshly as he could.

All of this is again assuming that the alleged slur was uttered. But no one in the Rusty Wallace, Inc. camp – be it Berry, Brendan Gaughan or any member of the No. 62 team – have conceded that such a foul term was even directed towards Davis. In fact, according to ESPN, the two sources that NASCAR based their decision to suspend Berry on were representatives of Davis’s sponsor.

Really? Because a driver’s sponsor reps hear a derogatory word directed towards their driver, that’s become enough grounds for suspension? That’s enough evidence to throw innocent until proven guilty out the window?

Racism is clearly a hot-button topic when it comes to NASCAR, a sanctioning body that despite its admirable efforts has been unable to shake the stereotype it enjoys of being a racist, redneck haven. But regardless of the substance of Berry’s remarks towards Davis, be it racist or just profane, the fact remains that NASCAR has essentially, on the word of two non-official personnel, suspended a competitor indefinitely because they got emotional about seeing their racecar needlessly wrecked.

The accounts of what happened are murky at best, and that points to the conclusion that NASCAR, as soon as the mere suggestion of racism popped up, acted quickly and decisively. And hastily. Suspending a competitor indefinitely is a huge blow both to the competitor and to their respective team, and not a penalty to be taken lightly. Yet that’s what NASCAR did in this situation… they took it lightly, letting the possibility of racial undertones prevent pertinent questions and issues from being considered.

Let’s not forget, again, that those alleging this happened are far from biased… they’re members of Davis’s team.

Marc’s father, Harry Davis, has adamantly told ESPN that “it’s never been about race.” I beg to differ. An incident at Hickory Motor Speedway in 2006 that saw his son racially heckled and booed by the crowd has been heavily debated. To quote a fellow Frontstretch writer I spoke with who was there, it was “certainly nothing NEAR what the Davises publicized happened.”

And let’s not forget, that while the Davises have publicly appeared to be riding the high horse and to want no part of the controversy surrounding this alleged incident, Harry Davis still called Rusty Wallace personally… because no one from RWI had apologized. And during that call, Davis had the nerve to apologize on behalf of Wallace’s driver for his “inappropriate” remarks that his alma mater, Georgetown University, was superior to that of Davis’s at Howard University.

I’ll be perfectly blunt here: The fact that Harry Davis can sit there and conclude that Gaughan’s remarks regarding Georgetown and Howard are wrong tells me one thing… some of “it” certainly is about race. And if Gaughan’s remarks constitute racism, I myself must be a racist because I booed the North Carolina A&T football team when they came to Winston-Salem in 2004 and played my alma mater, Wake Forest. I mean, I was celebrating the superiority of my university’s team and what they stood for. And since I’m white and Wake beat a historically black college 42-3, I must have been implying something racist in cheering and booing accordingly.

Does all of this conclusively prove anything about the Davises, or about anything? No. But what it does do is raise some considerable doubt about just how objective the sources that led to Berry’s suspension, and the team they affiliated with, really are. And that considerable doubt means conclusively that NASCAR should not have levied any sort of penalty on Bryan Berry.

Rusty Wallace was quoted as saying “I don’t know who to believe” when asked about the contradicting accounts of what transpired that emerged from Davis’s camp and Bryan Berry. I don’t either, because I haven’t trusted NASCAR for years. And knowing what I know about the Davis camp, I don’t trust them either.

What I do trust is my perception regarding this incident, and it tells me that the truth of what actually happened in the Music City garage is opaque at best. There has been no admission by Bryan Berry or any member of the No. 62 team that the alleged slur was used. No NASCAR personnel heard the alleged slur. And the two who supposedly did can’t help but have their objectivity questioned… not because of anything racial, but because they are supporting a driver who was justly chastised for doing something stupid and destructive on the track.

NASCAR certainly needs not be silent when they levy suspensions. But in cases like these, where they clearly levied a suspension first and are not even asking questions later, silence is exactly what NASCAR needs. – Bryan Davis Keith

The Cacophony Of Silence: NASCAR’s Missing Tell-All Policy

When NASCAR announced the indefinite suspension of Nationwide crew chief Bryan Berry last Thursday, that’s all it did. Yes, there was the usual line and paragraph regarding which rule of the NASCAR golden book he violated – the all encompassing Section 12-1, actions detrimental to stock car racing – but, there was nothing else.

Now, when indefinite suspensions are announced, there are usually accompanying points deductions, huge fines, and some explanation of which car part the crew chief got creative with… but not this time. Where the press release would normally continue with dates and details of the violation, I read nothing. Instead, my curiosity got pricked.

After some research, I was able to determine Mr. Berry used a racial slur in the garage area in reference to Davis after Davis’s car was hit by Berry’s No. 62, driven by Gaughan, during the Nashville Nationwide Series race.

Again, I hit the blank wall of NASCAR placing a gag order on “the incident.”

Now, not only had my undying need to know all been circumvented, but worse yet, my imagination was left to run amok in the dark recesses of racial tension in America.

In fact, nobody directly involved in the unfortunate moment has chosen to repeat the offending phrases, nor has the accused decided to make a formal statement denying his alleged utterance.

It’s like it didn’t happen.

Oh, but didn’t you know? NASCAR doesn’t have a racism problem – it just randomly suspends individuals for getting into fights with other teams. Right….

Now, I don’t believe any of us would benefit by knowing the exact derogatory words used in this case. However, I do believe that by burying the hot-button topic of race in the stack of weekly press releases followed by silence, NASCAR is in danger of promoting the stereotypical reputation the sport has been trying to shed for almost 20 years.

Instead of having details and facts to debate, support, and decry, the fans – those of us who buy the tickets, watch the broadcasts and wear the t-shirts – are left to defend this “redneck nation” with no ammunition. It’s hard to say that the vast majority of the fanbase despises the use of racial slurs when the sanctioning body fails to state what it was actually penalizing the offender for in the first place.

I’m not saying Bryan Berry needs to be put in the stocks for all of NASCAR Nation to beat on, but I do want to know that steps are being taken to address this “non-existent” issue.

Berry’s owner, Rusty Wallace, made statements that he didn’t believe Berry actually said anything and that Berry has denied using those words (although he didn’t deny he uttered some swears). Davis has refused to enter the fray, offering no comment to the press while Davis’s father has been on the phone to Wallace, politely trying to smooth over the gaff. And lastly, the members of the No. 62 team have shown sorrow that Berry isn’t allowed at the track.

Well, isn’t that nice? And some of it hardly believable.

I keep asking myself: Where is the anger? Perhaps it was lost in the black void of the amount of airtime the bigger issue has received over the past year.

This is not the first time NASCAR and its self-approved media outlets have chosen to look the other direction when the ugly head of racism arose this past year. Does anybody remember Mauricia Grant, the inspector who filed a discrimination lawsuit against NASCAR? Better yet, do they recall the result of that litigation? That’s right; the issue was settled confidentially out of court. Just like magic, the nasty thoughts the courtroom drama nearly conjured vanished in the mist of NASCAR no-no’s.

NASCAR is jumping into a deep, dark hole if it thinks it can shed an old, ingrained perception of the sport by simply ignoring problems when they arise.

This sport boasts one of the most outspoken and loyal fan bases. I know many of them to be intelligent and shrewd individuals. But we are human. It’s in our nature to create possible scenarios to unseen sets of events.

Perhaps NASCAR responded to the possibility that a forbidden word leapt from someone’s tongue in the heat of the moment… would that have been the truth, I could believe it. However, in my cynical world that is inhabited by the rest of humanity in all its insensitive glory, I find it much more likely that something so egregious occurred that no option was left but to take action.

Hence, I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that my sport is adjudicated by officials who won’t admit to a problem until it’s oozing over the tops of their boots.

Maybe this was just a mud puddle. However, since nobody showed it to me, I have a suspicion NASCAR is trying to scrape an unending supply of shit from the bottom of its shoe and shove it back in a closet.

Show me all of it! The good, the bad, and the very ugly. Only then, will my faith in NASCAR’s integrity be unshakable. – S.D. Grady