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NASCAR Race Relations

Updated: Oct 6

NASCAR was born of the rebellion movement during the Prohibition era in the Deep South.[1] Unfortunately, due to its location and the demographic it attracted, NASCAR events often became a hot spot for Confederate flags and racist audiences.[2]

Bubba Wallace has been a leading figure in advocating for more inclusivity in the sport, fueled by the racism he has experienced.[3] In 2018, a person interrupted his radio segment to exclaim, “white lives matter.”[4] In 2020 after Wallace successfully led a movement to ban Confederate flags from NASCAR events, he found a noose hanging in his garage.[5] Never mind that the FBI determined that Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime and, instead, that the noose had been there for a while before.[6] Recently, on the weekend of May 20, 2023, someone hijacked Wallace’s radio to tell Wallace that he was “not wanted in NASCAR.”[7] And as Wallace is one of only four minority racecar drivers out of the 36 on the professional circuit, these attacks were clearly motivated by racial bias.[8]

The University of Southern California Race and Equity Center’s Strategic Director, Richard Nassar, has discussed some of the difficulties in changing the atmosphere and audience surrounding the sport.[9] He openly admitted that NASCAR needs to do more to ensure a welcoming environment for audiences of color.[10] He also acknowledged that one of the most significant obstacles in the way of this goal is that many core NASCAR fans see attempts at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) initiatives as a personal attack.[11] Nassar states that he believes the way to combat these sentiments is by making “[it] the responsibility of NASCAR to promote DEI and to be anti-racist. It can’t just be a message. You need to be explicit about racism in the crowds. It’s going to take a lot of events, programming and getting involved in communities that you don’t usually go to.”[12]

To cultivate DEI, NASCAR has implemented a few programs. The NASCAR Diversity Internship Program is a paid internship that seeks diverse undergraduate and graduate college students to contribute to the fast-paced NASCAR industry.[13] Applicants must be members of one or more of the following races/ethnic minority classifications: Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Latino or Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander.[14] Additionally, NASCAR started Drive for Diversity, which trains “minority and female” recruits to become drivers and/or pit crew members.[15] Naturally, to apply for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, you must be either a woman or a member of one, or multiple, of the ethnic minority classifications listed above.[16]

Now, people are pushing back and speaking out against these new initiatives. The programs are being labeled racist and/or outright illegal for excluding white applicants.[17] David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University, alleges that NASCAR’s DEI-inspired programs violate both Title VII and the 1866 Civil Rights Act. These laws were established to protect employees and job applicants from discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin” and also cover “the full spectrum of employment decisions,” according to the Federal Trade Commission.[18] Bernstein believes, “[h]aving a 100% quota for minorities for a position is illegal even under a very generous view of what is allowed.”[19]

Denied applicants—or those barred from applying at all—may have standing to challenge the legality of the new internship programs if denial is based solely on the applicant’s race. NASCAR has made this goal of becoming more inclusive a priority; supported by recent efforts to broaden its spectrum of employees and fanbase. However, the lingering question is whether the implementation of these programs is too far, and a decision that will lead to lawsuits in the organization’s future.

[1] Michael Chow, Racing Past Racism: NASCAR and its haunting historical fanbase, USCAnnenbergMedia, March 1st, 2022, 4:32 PM, [2]Id. [3] Brooke Leigh Howard, NASCAR Driver Bubba Wallace Hit with More Racism, Daily Beast, May 22, 2023, 12:49 PM, [4] Id. [5]Id. [6]Id. [7]Id. [8]Id. at 1. [9]Id. [10]Id. [11] Id. [12]Id. [13] Asher Notheis, NASCAR criticized over apparent discrimination in diversity internship, Washington Examiner, August 29, 2023, 1:33 PM, [14]Id. [15]Id. [16]Id. [17]Id. [18]Id. [19] Id.

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