That’s it. And that’s a problem.
Other American sports don’t have this problem. Diversity shouldn’t be such a major issue in 2018. It should be our human instinct to not discriminate against someone based on the color of their skin, where they’re born or their gender.
But in a dystopian society, it’s the circumstances with which we have to deal.
It’s 2018, and we shouldn’t even be having this discussion. But NASCAR needs to continue the progress it has made over the years. Sure, three full-time diverse drivers is better than only having Juan Pablo Montoya a mere decade ago, but there is still work to be done, especially in NASCAR’s feeder series, which have at least 20 drivers that the sport considers to be diverse.
Victor Gonzalez Jr. is the only Hispanic driver other than Suarez to compete in the XFINITY Series this year. Besides Jennifer Jo Cobb, the only other female drivers to compete in NASCAR this year are Danica Patrick, Angela Ruch and Katherine Legge.
Meanwhile, no one born outside of North America has raced in the Camping World Truck Series this year.
Jesse Iwuji is the latest driver of color to make his national series debut, piloting a truck this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. But other than Iwuji, no other diverse drivers are scheduled to make the jump anytime soon.
The fact that Iwuji’s even a story in that way is kind of sad, and he’s not the only one. Remember how many questions Wallace kept getting asked about the color of his skin when he signed with Richard Petty Motorsports? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why people are so fascinated that someone with a different background can do something they can — and arguably at the same, if not, a better level.
Why shouldn’t more of NASCAR’s Drive For Diversity drivers be rewarded for their skill set? Part of the problem might be that they are being marketed as someone who’s different off the track, but not the same or better on it. These are talented drivers, oftentimes more talented than the likes of Michael Annett or John Wes Townley (who retired after 2016), who bring money and sponsorship to their rides but often lack the results to back them up.
Currently, four Drive For Diversity drivers competing for Rev Racing in the K&N Pro Series East sit in the top seven in the standings. That’s exactly what NASCAR needs. It’s fantastic to see they are getting an opportunity. But others deserve a shot as well.
So, what needs to be done?
For starters, NASCAR needs to continue pushing its diversity program. It has really emphasized to team owners that a driver who isn’t white and fits in with all of the sport’s stereotypes can actually get the job done. It can be more marketable to sponsors to have someone who is “different,” if you would. It makes them stand out to sponsors, and it can attract a company that might have never thought about getting involved in NASCAR until it found someone that identifies with its brand.
Diversity is a beautiful thing, and NASCAR needs to show executives why it is just that.
The problem isn’t just one of skin color, though. When Patrick announced her retirement, there was an immediate void created, as there are zero female drivers for people to look up to in the sport’s premier division.
In a sport that enables men and women to participate on the same grounds, NASCAR needs to promote just that. Motorsports provides a unique opportunity for women to show they can beat men. It’s pretty cool. But it’s not being optimized like it needs to be.
A whole new generation of racers developed thanks to Patrick being such a force to be reckoned with in the sports marketing world. Her brand, as unique as it was, made it possible for people to follow her path.
Currently, NASCAR’s next female driver on the trajectory of making it to the Cup Series is someone it selected for its NASCAR Next program, Hailie Deegan. The 17-year-old shows on-track characteristics similar to predecessors Kenzie Ruston, Johanna Long, Nicole Behar and many others by consistently running in the top 10 and making the most out of her equipment. Through nine races, she has eight top 10s and sits fifth in the K&N Pro Series West standings.
But what makes Deegan different is her marketability. Her father, Brian Deegan, is one of the greatest to ever compete in motocross. And the relationships he developed have clearly helped his daughter follow her dream of becoming a racecar driver. She even has support from Cup Series title sponsor Monster Energy.
As long as she continues to build her own brand, she will more than likely be the next Patrick, and has the potential to run much better than the former IndyCar Series driver. Combining her brand with on-track success will land her a gig at a top-tier team. With a natural talent for stock car racing that is much stronger than Patrick had, she can produce results that might land her in the Hall of Fame one day.
There’s the likes of ARCA’s Natalie Decker and maybe even Venturini Motorsports teammate Toni Breidinger. But that’s about it in regards to potential female racers who can be the next face of the sport in the next five years.
The two Venturini drivers are backed by partners that will continue to grow with them. Decker is sponsored by N29 Capital Partners, which is expected to back her as she moves up through the rankings. And each of their brands are supported by a strong social media presence, which can attract companies that might have never even heard of NASCAR.
But none of these women are anywhere close to being Cup Series ready. The good news, though, is there are many women racers at short tracks across America who are a few right steps away from making it into NASCAR. That could mean a chunk of Cup drivers in the future will be women.
What’s NASCAR supposed to do until then, though? Besides waiting for them to make their way through the rankings, the sport needs to find a way to build their brands, make them the future of the sport, give them as many resources as possible.
These are talented drivers, and they deserve a chance. Not only will this help them succeed, it will also bring positive attention to a sport that so desperately needs it with ratings and attendance on the decline.
Imagine how many new fans would come to and watch races with drivers who they identify with. Sorry, but three drivers won’t change the demographics anytime soon.
While the Cup Series’ three main diverse drivers continue to succeed, there is now a path others can follow. That’s much better than it was a decade ago, when it seemed impossible for anyone who wasn’t a white man to compete in NASCAR.
And the path that NASCAR carved out for those who want to compete and know teams are reluctant because of their heritage is starting to work. The fact that a team with Richard Petty’s name on it has an African-American driver is crazy to even think about.
People can change, and that’s what NASCAR does best. It provides change for those who want it.
Let’s hope NASCAR continues to push team owners to hire those with talent — no matter what they look like — rather than just those with money. Because at the end of the day, racing is about winning. If a driver can get the job done, it shouldn’t matter if they’re different from you.
Different is good. It’s great, actually. And when other forms of racing, such as Formula 1 and even the IndyCar Series, have drivers from all around the world on weekly entry lists, something has to change.
Maybe, just maybe, someone will read this and consider hiring a graduate of NASCAR’s diversity program. It will surely be worth it.