African American Legacy Profiles: Nascar Drivers

With the Nascar (National Association of Stock Car Auto
Racing), season to begin this weekend at Daytona Beach with the Daytona 500,
let me give you a quick primer and then divulge into a little African American
History.

Nascar is made up of three levels, the entry level is the
Truck Series sponsored by Camping World. This is the starting point for rookie
drivers as well as older drivers who honestly can’t make the cut in the  higher series. The races are shorter, the
stock style pickup trucks they drive are simpler and it’s basically minor
leagues.

Then there is the Nationwide series (previously known as the
Busch series), this is higher training ground say AAA in baseball. Many drivers
on the top series contend in this series as well (though they do not earn
championship points), and it’s a place where those coming up get their “chops”.
Though its closer to the higher level than the truck series, it’s still not
quite there. The cars are different, races aren’t as long and competition not
as tough.

Then there is Cup series or currently called Sprint Cup
(previously called Winston Cup & Nextel Cup), obviously named after
sponsors. Sponsors are huge in racing, with the cars covered in advertisements;
it’s all about the dollars.

Now from the outside Nascar does not look very diverse but
it does have a short history of African American drivers.

Depending who you ask
one of two people could be the first African American to race in Nascar, some
people claim Elias Bowie ran in one race on July 31, 1955 in San Mateo, CA. And
others (including Nascar official records) say Charlie Scott ran in one race on
Daytona Beach on February 26, 1956.

But the African American man who had the longest career in
Nascar (1961-1973), was Wendell Scott (no relation to Charlie), Wendell is also
the only African American man to win a Cup race in Nascar on December 1, 1963.
Now he was not given immediate credit for that win. It was deemed too close to
call and he was not announced as the winner of that race until two days later.
During Wendell’s career he competed in 495 races, had 20 top 5 finishes &
147 top 10 finishes.

But it wouldn’t be until April 20, 1986 that the next driver
Willy T. Ribbs would start at North Wilkesboro Speedway and then race two more
times that year but never being a contender, in fact his last two starts the
races ended early for him due to engine failure.

But Willy has had a dynamic career in other forms of auto racing,
he currently competes in Grand Am racing (sponsored by Rolex), and competed in
Indy Racing (IRL), until last year.

Bill Lester is the last African American to race on the Cup
level in Nascar. He started the race in Atlanta on March 20, 2006 and also raced later that year at Michigan Speedway.

He was also the first African American to race in the
Nationwide series starting in 1999. He also regularly competed in the Truck
series as well from 2002-2007.

But in the high dollar and big sponsor world of Nascar Bill struggled to get consistent sponsorship and like Willy T. Ribbs he went to compete in the Rolex Grand Am Series where he became the first African American to win in the Grand Am series on May 14, 2011 at Virginia International Raceway.

As for the future of African Americans in Nascar there are two men who may be in the Cup series one day. One is already in the Nationwide Series (and  drove in the Truck Series for NFL star Randy Moss), he is Marc Davis who has been in the two lower levels of Nascar since 2008.

The newest and brightest star to enter Nascar is American Motorcross champion (2007 & 2009), James Stewart Jr. James signed a deal to drive for former Super Bowl Champion coach Joe Gibbs in the Nationwide series last October. James is the first African American to win a championship in any top level of American motorsports and seems to be the next African American to enter Nascar and hopefully should diversify the sport where few men of color have raced.

 

 

 

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  • "Depending who you ask one of two people could be the first African American to race in Nascar, some people claim Elias Bowie ran in one race on July 31, 1955 in San Mateo, CA. And others (including Nascar official records) say Charlie Scott ran in one race on Daytona Beach on February 26, 1956."

    Since 1955 occurred before 1956, Elias Bowie was the first AA to race in Nascar. And he, too, is recognized in the Nascar records- http://www.nascar.com/2009/news/features/02/11/black.history.month.history.black.drivers/index.html
    and http://racing-reference.info/driver/Elias_Bowie
    Also, here's an excellent article on the subject: http://www.insiderracingnews.com/Writers/RG/041808.html

    Full disclosure - I'm a cousin to Elias Bowie, ref: www.jamesbowiefmc.com

    Thanks,
    Steve Bowie

  • In reply to scbowie:

    Thanks so much for responding & reading, I will check out the links you sent.

  • African American Legacy Profiles: NASCAR Drivers - By Charles W. Johnson, Thursday at 5:33 pm (February 24th, 2010)

    NOTE: Related Color Images of Venture Motorsports Group Racing Team Are Available Via Email Correspondance

    Charles:

    Thank you for your blog regarding an historical perspective of African-American Drivers in NASCAR today. To the surprise of many there are many more championship winning African American drivers who participate at both the Regional and National levels of many SCCA (Sports car Club of America) and NASA (National Auto Sports Association) road racing club events throughout the country. Many of our teams are professional and perform well in the competitive arena of the grass root motorsports industry; unfortunately many of us fall under the national radar. Please Note: this narrative is from the road racing, sport car and open-wheel oval point of view. Other motorsports venues such as drag racing’s (Antron Brown & Pedregron Brothers), motocross’ (James “Bubba” Stewart) and of course super bike motorsports venues have similar challenges and concerns. Unfortunately, they are individuals who shoulder a tremendous amount of responsibility and should not have to brave the many obstacles alone; but they oftentimes do. This should actually sound the alarm of urgency, highlight the severity and call many of those with the financial leverage to act and be a part of the process.

    Being the “Bean In The Milk” is not isolate, uncommon or a foreign concept for those African-American who challenges, blaze trails, and go further than the expectation of the accepted societal and cultural norms. Trailblazers, not the sheep, do not believe in herds and have been held up as the cornerstones for excellence and achievement. Their free-spirited thinking and embracing of Risk should be celebrated not stifled. These are the individuals who buck traditions, run head-long into the uncharted wilderness of the unknown to dare and follow their passions. Additionally, these individuals are committed to being the very best in their chosen area of focus; oftentimes in obscurity. - Quote: “Risk breeds opportunity”

    The African-American racing presence is alive and well. Currently several colleagues that I race with and participate in a variety of racing classes those include: IT (Improved Touring), GT3 (Grand Touring-3), SSB & SSC (Showroom Stock B &C), Formula-Vee, AS (American Sedan), FF (Formula Ford) FC (Formula Continental) and HPD Honda Challenge etc. The notion that talented African-American drivers and teams are not proven or not championship caliber is without merit and is regularly dispelled by active participants such as myself and other competent and talented African-American driver-owned teams across the country.

    Incidentally, I am one of these Championship Drivers whose professional focus is on the business aspects of the motorsports sponsorship procurement has a means of continued achievements in my industry thus far; but is not always enough.

    I would like to see the end (No more annual yammering about) for the need to have funded African-American drivers, teams in NASCAR, Indy Car, Grand American and or the Rolex series. Let’s not create cleverly marketed African-American consumers but actual pioneers/innovators and owners that are in the forefront and not in the shadows of the motorsports industry.

    As a result of the correspondence to you, I am hopeful that the needed attention for driver and owner talent like myself and others could be the untapped financial, cultural and advertising windfall that has been historically lying dormant for far too long.
    Additionally, through the publication of thought-provoking and challenging articles like this one, coupled with the relentless undertaking and stubborn determination of Africa-American founded drivers, owners and teams; I am hopeful that racing venues such as Indy Car, Grand American, Rolex and of course NASCAR will take earnest notice and truly have motorsports venues that will legitimately achieve their goal of being; the “Great America’s Race” and not shallow empty slogan for marketing purposes alone. - Quote: “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

    The Race/Drive for Diversity is in itself a weak attempt to introduce budding African-Americans, Females and other drivers of color to the professional levels of NASCAR Racing. Whose flawed limitations qualify potential candidates of the age 25 years and under; therefore excluding experienced, skilled and proven driver talent who were not born prior to the implementation of NASCARS Diversity program. It is not until serious avocations for African-American driver-talent has been developed in premier series such as NASCAR series; that real innovation and change will occur. Currently and regretfully, it has the appearance of mere posturing rather than real substantive growth and advancement.

    Sure, the Race/Drive for Diversity offers crew, marketing and administrative infrastructure position exposure to some giving while (the NASCAR organization) pats itself on the shoulder; while touting itself as a step forward when in actuality, it is a half-hearted effort whose potential promises fall short on many levels of delivery of the coveted NASCAR brass-ring. Question: How many African-American NASCAR teams have been fielded in their ten-plus years in existence? How many African-American driver-talent Truck and or Cup teams have had full seasonal funding? Time after time, it has yet to be realized on a grand scale. NASCAR’s grand plan if realized would be the potential Gold Standard for their own and other motorsports series; but unfortunately it has not. It is a basic appeasement by NASCAR, a veritable smoke screen akin to “See What We Are Doing for Minorities” photo opportunities; especially highlighting attention during Black History Month and or presidential hopefuls every four years when the crucial Africa-American and Hispanic votes are needed; play to their audience for support….this is not cool at all! Currently, and to their credit, in comparison to the other motorsport venues such as Indy Car, Grand American, Rolex etcetera; NASCAR has at least cast the first stone in the water as they provide the best self-indulgent marketing on this subject.

    You may ask Who Are you? Are you just another would-be driver who suffers from a serious case of sour grapes? Is this some internet venting session from some crazed African America hiding behind the anonymity of his keyboard? The answer to the aforementioned questions are - No.

    The Writer’s Background:

    Charles, I have attached for your consideration several images of our championship racing team and vehicles that make Venture Motorsports Group the racing program what it is today.

    My racing career started at the tender age of seven driving performance racing karts, not the recreational ones competitively while living in California and Ohio. While growing up the fires of this budding fascination with racing cars was fed by monthly infusions of Road & Track and Hot Rod magazine subscriptions; in addition to watching the Indianapolis 500, the then Winston Cup, attending European Formula-2 and formula-3 & grand prix racing with aspirations in open-wheel racing while traveling with my parents in Europe as an Air Force brat.

    This exposure to open-wheel racing was the foundational launching pad that developed the focus and passion for competitive racing, the constructing of racing vehicle, engine development, reviewing of countless articles on suspension geometry and the perfecting of my race craft all of which led to numerous motorcycle and road racing championship victories.

    Occupation: Mechanical Engineer

    I) Venture Motorsports Group’s (Career Standings):

    a) 284 - Career Road Racing Starts
    b) 171 - Road Racing Victories
    c) 95 - Runner-up Road Racing Finishes
    d) 11 - Other (Top Ten) Road Racing Finishes
    e) 7 - DNF’s (Did Not Finish)

    II) Championship Accomplishment History:

    • NEOhio (Northeastern Ohio) Regional Series Points Champion

    • Central Division (CenDiv) Series - Champion SSB

    • Central Division (CenDiv) Series - Champion SCC

    • Central Division (CenDiv) Series - 2nd Place, Runner-up SSC

    • Kryder Cup Points Series - Champion SSB

    • Kryder Cup Points Series - Champion SSC

    • NEOhio (Northeastern Ohio) Regional Champion SSB

    • NEOhio (Northeastern Ohio) Regional Champion SSC

    • Castrol Oil & Continental Tire Series - 2nd Place, Runner-up

    • BFGoodrich Tire Contingency Fund Recipient

    • Lincoln Electric Welding Products Contingency Recipient

    • Two (2) Road Racing Track Records held at Grattan Raceway

    III) Venture Motorsports Groups (Corporate, Media and Community) Marketing Presence:

    a) Corporate & Business Presence: Television interviews, Sponsor partner exhibitions, Radio commentary and Competition instructor for PCA Porsche Club of America, SCCA (Sports car Club of America) and Track Time competition racing schools.

    b) Media Presence: Television, Newspaper, Magazine, Radio, North American International Auto Show and Website feature interviews.

    c) Community Presence: Charitable organization, educational presentations, fan appreciation fund raisers events and mentoring program representative.

    IV) Next - Step Pursuit for Venture Motorsports Group:

    The next-step goal are the Grand American Endurance GS (Grand Sport) Porsche Cayman Series and BTCC British Touring Car Championship series in Europe.

    V) (Four Initial) Proposed Solutions:

    #1) Let’s rally some of our professional athletes who too have enthusiast and financial interests in motorsports. Foster driver team talent as several have done in motorcycle & NASCAR such as: (Michael Jordan & Tyson Beckford), Monster Truck (several notable Football Players). By doing so this would be the veritable launching pad for proven committed drivers in endurance and road racing like Anthony Robinson, Harry Bellizaire, Jonathan Leeper, Calvin Stewart and so many countless others who are proven, proficient, passionate, competent, professional and whose motorsport involvement remains invisible to a prospective public hungry for multiple African-American driver and team talent in one of the greatest sports spectacles called motor racing.

    #2) Increased advertising and television coverage of emerging (Club and National) level racing at professional venues events to a larger national audience…how can you be watched by a potential audience if they do not know that you exist? The coupling or combining regional and national race events with main (Indy car, Grand American, Rolex) events for additional crowd exposure; you would be surprised who are in attendance at any given event.

    #3) Professional marketing staffs who would be a guiding beacon for those who have done the work and are fully committed to the process of sports marketing; like those in the major stick and ball sports who utilize scouts and industry agent representatives for their bush-league levels such as baseball, softball, football, basketball, hockey, volleyball and others.

    Why is this so difficult for the motorsports grassroots level, when this proven process that is the cornerstone historically for the other sports venues? Unfortunately, the majority of the motorsports agents want you after you have become a marketing phenomenon or until the money runs out; then you are as good as your latest financial trick. This is of course not s long-term strategy nor has a chance of industry sustainability. With no skin in the game these “band wagoner”, “johnny-come-lately” that oftentimes latches onto the driver-athlete or team for the payoff after the hard work to become an industry shooting star has been done; and not before.

    #4) Contact and refer small, medium and large business titans whose products could be marketed and featured to and in television, magazine, newspaper and internet audiences by professionally operated and accomplished African- American racing programs. Include companies who would benefit from tax incentives, specific branding of products & services to targeted sales demographic etc.

    Let’s stop talking and commenting year, after year, after year, about the known lack of substantive growth of African-American in this area. Take fiscal, promotional and marketing actions that make this passion a reality not only for those African-American pioneers whose legacy from the likes of Joie Ray, Father & son team Leonard W. & T. Miller, Wendell Scott, Chris Bristol, Morty Buckles, Dr. Jim Logan, Willy T Ribb, Bill Lester, Louis Hamilton and so many other countless and nameless potential pioneers whose incredible efforts has forged the path for African-American drivers like myself; who actively participate today are destined for obscurity. More importantly, what we do today will be the legacy pathway that will foster the dreams and ambitions of future African-American driver talent yet to be discovered.

    These are just a few suggestions, if no one knows that you exist; how can you rise from obscurity. Charlie a much needed tsunami and those who are on the front side of the paradigm wave will reap the financial, cultural and marketing rewards of their forward thinking. As of those who envisioned sports with African-Americans in Basketball, Football, Baseball, Hockey, Motocross to name a few; there too will be a flood of untapped African-American driver talent ripe for those who invest in planting seeds for the motorsports industry as well.

    Charles, thanking you in advance for your blog, the time spent reviewing my hopefully thought-provoking reply and your appreciation of your future correspondence. Should you need any additional information or have questions I can be conveniently reached via business emails Venturemotorsportsgroup@hotmail.com or anthony.teamvmg@gmail.com or cell phone (440) 552-0256.

    Professional, Cultural, Motorsports and Journalistic Regards,

    Anthony Robinson
    CEO, Venture Motorsports Group

  • In reply to Speedy:

    Anthony I appreciate such a thoughful response with a plethora of info. I will be in touch.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul grad (LA&S '99), and know and love Chicago. Writing is my passion, what I write is what I feel and there is no half steppin' with my work. I simply want to share my thoughts, experiences and opinions. And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say.

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