NASCAR Threw Down a Gauntlet on Racial Inequality. So Where Does the NHRA Stand?

Credit: Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Companies around this nation have forcefully made known their views against racial inequity. No racing organization has gone as far as NASCAR, which finally decreed it no longer allows the use of the confederate flag on its properties and during its events, pushed by its sole full-time Black driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, who drives for Richard Petty.

INDYCAR has been quiet on that front. There are a few Black employees with some race teams. The series did fire its current flag man after he made scurrilous remarks concerning NASCAR’s decision to ban the confederate flag. IMSA has been pretty quiet on this front, too. Neither group has many people of color at the corporate level.

NHRA has quite a few Black competitors, notably Antron Brown, the three-time Mello Yello Top Fuel champion, who began his professional career racing Pro Stock Motorcycle, notably with current team co-owner Don Schumacher of Don Schumacher Racing. Brown is in the midst of constructing his own team and the cooperation of DSR and its owner have been of great assistance to him this year.

J.R. Todd joined Brown as a champion, earning the Funny Car title with Kalitta Motorsports in 2018 driving the Toyota Camry that would have ostensibly belonged to team owner Connie Kalitta’s late son Scott. Todd initially raced in Top Fuel, where he became the first Black driver to win a professional race in a dragster.

There have been other racers of color in straight-line competition, notably in Pro Stock Motorcycle, which spawned Brown’s career. The first Black woman to win an NHRA PSM Wally winner’s trophy is Peggy Llewellyn, who achieved the distinction in 2007. There have been other riders, notably Michael Phillips who returns to competition in July at Indianapolis and Reggie Showers, a double amputee stand-out in the motorcycle category.

Tom Hammonds drove in Pro Stock, as did Larry Nance. Indeed, there have been plenty of racers who have competed on the track and behind the computer in both the pro Mello Yello and amateur Lucas Oil Sportsman ranks. Harold Martin continues to race in Pro Mod to this day.

NHRA has simply let the competition do its talking for Black people in cars, on motorcycles and turning wrenches. It did turn a blind eye to competitors who castigated former president Barack Obama on their cars and race trailers during his time in office; it does allow political commentary for competitors to this day.

NHRA produced a social media statement on June 2 that read: “We grieve with our nation and the world as we acknowledge the tragic impacts of systemic racial injustice. Diversity and inclusion is in our sport’s DNA, but we want to do better. We pledge to listen and learn as we aspire to a world of justice, mutual respect and peace.”

Drag racing did address the flying of the confederate flag three years ago when it stated: “NHRA values and celebrates diversity. Because of the history behind the confederate flag, NHRA does not allow its use in any official capacity. We also request that fans not fly or display it at our events. NHRA will continue to promote an inclusive and welcoming environment for all fans and competitors both at our events and throughout all facets of our operation.”

Note the confederate flag was not banned in this 2017 statement, but it’s certainly not welcomed.

 

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About Anne Proffit 561 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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