As a recent racing emigre to the United States some 35 years ago, driver Derek Daly made a remark deprecating himself using what was then common British slang. He was reprimanded by journalist Robin Miller, who told him the “n” word was a no-no in American society. He never made the same mistake.
Thirty-five years later, that comment returned to haunt Daly, who earned plaudits after his racing career ended for his talent behind a broadcaster’s microphone. He worked with the local CBS affiliate in Indianapolis, WISH-TV, for nearly 30 years, using his experience behind the wheel and his familiarity with the racing community to bring listeners and watchers closer to the action and the people responsible for making motorsports so vibrant.
When another broadcast journalist, former Colts announcer Bob Lamy, accused Daly of using the “n” word in a conversation with him, Daly’s world collapsed. The interview had been with a completely different broadcast journalist, former CART Radio Network analyst Larry Henry.
Henry remembers the incident to this day. “I’ve never forgotten it,” he told me. “I froze on-air. Lamy may have heard it live on WIBC as he was sports director and my boss” at the time. That today’s higher-ups at WISH-TV decided to immediately fire Daly for a decades-removed remark is part of a larger issue.
Political correctness has reached a phase when every syllable from decades past is pored through like a syllabus from the ancients. That Derek Daly fell prey to this kind of insidious overreach says way too much about our current, venomously dichotomous political environment.
As the news hit early last week, members of the racing community stood tall with Daly, including Willy T Ribbs, who lauded Daly for mentoring him as he raced British Formula Ford in 1977. The first African American to compete in the Indianapolis 500, Ribbs said, “As long as I’ve been around him he’s never used a slur about race or nationality ever, but from 35 years ago, I don’t believe it.”
In addition, the story didn’t end with Derek Daly’s firing. It also affected his son’s racing career this past weekend, when Conor Daly, 26, was intending to race under the colors of Lilly Diabetes in his NASCAR Xfinity debut with Roush Fenway Racing at Road America.
Conor Daly didn’t make known his affliction as a Type 1 diabetic until very recently. He changed his dietary habits to lessen the effects, and adjusted his workout regimen for the same reason. He is using medications to assist him in controlling his issues, as is fellow INDYCAR racer and Type 1 diabetic Charlie Kimball.
Lilly Diabetes initial decision to sponsor Daly at Road America was a win-win situation for the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant and for the dedicated racecar driver, who has made several starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series during its 2018 campaign and has regularly lauded Lilly Diabetes for its support.
Then Derek Daly’s 35-year-old off-the-cuff comment came back to haunt both him and his son. Lilly Diabetes pulled their backing from Conor Daly for the “sins” of his father, which occurred well before Conor was born. The company’s statement said its sponsorship was intended to raise awareness for treatment options and resources for people living with diabetes.
“Unfortunately, the comments that surfaced this week by Derek Daly distract from this focus, so we have made the decision that Lilly Diabetes will no longer run the No. 6 at Road America this weekend,” the company stated.
Conor Daly did compete for Roush Fenway Racing at the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin road course, qualifying his Ford Mustang a viable 15th in the 40-car field and running as high as 11th before suspension failure sent him back to the pits to retire in 31st position.
The publicity engendered by this episode makes both WISH-TV and Lilly Diabetes look like they’re making knee-jerk reactions to a prehistoric event. It appears these two Indianapolis companies are more caught up in rhetoric than thoughtful, responsive action.
Some say PR of any type is good for business; in this case I’d have to differ.