Black race fans don’t let lack of diversity keep them from 500

Filed under DAYTONA BEACH

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

Each year, the Daytona 500 and events leading up to the big race attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and brings in nearly $2 billion into the local economy.

On Sunday, Blacks who attended the Sunday Daytona 500 were talking about the excitement of the event even though Saturday’s harrowing crash had cast a pall over weekend activities.

Team owner Rick Hendrick, left, laughs with former NFL player Ray Lewis in Victory Lane, as Hendrick and members of driver Jimmie Johnson’s team celebrate winning the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.(JEFF SINER/CHARLOTTE OBSERVER/MCT )

Team owner Rick Hendrick, left, laughs with former NFL player Ray Lewis in Victory Lane, as Hendrick and members of driver Jimmie Johnson’s team celebrate winning the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.
(JEFF SINER/CHARLOTTE OBSERVER/MCT )

The Nationwide Series race, which took place at the Daytona International Speedway (DIS) a day before the Daytona 500, made headlines due to a major crash. A car went flying into a front section of the grandstands injuring more than 30 people and hospitalizing 15.

NASCAR has opened up an investigation into the crash to check safety measures but three people have retained Orlando-based law firm Morgan & Morgan for legal representation. The Daytona Times had learned of no lawsuit being filed by its Wednesday night deadline.

Attorney Matt Morgan of Morgan & Morgan announced the hiring on Twitter Monday night. The tweet read:  “BREAKING: My firm has been retained by three individuals who were injured at the NASCAR race this past weekend. — @MattMorganESQ.”

Morgan told ESPN.com on Tuesday that no lawsuits had been filed, but he was gathering information for the individuals to “pursue their claim for damages against the entities responsible for the injuries.”

The entities could include Daytona International Speedway, the company that designed the catch fence, NASCAR, the car owner and others.

“At this time, we have no knowledge that any lawsuits have been filed. As per company policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.” DIS spokesman Andrew Booth told ESPN.com on Tuesday.

Floridians react
Still, the Daytona 500, which is also referred to as the “Super Bowl’’ of stock car racing and the “Great American Race,’’ is generally considered an enjoyable experience for spectators, including African-Americans who attend despite the fact that there are few minority racers.

“I had a great day. I got to get on the infield and all. I also attended the truck race on Friday and it was great. I saw the Nationwide Series race and the wreck on TV.

Good thing no one got too seriously injured,” Robert Sherman of Gainesville told the Daytona Times.

Echoed Kim Buscher of Tampa, “I had a great day and I even got to go on the infield. I also attended the truck race on Friday which also had a crazy finish.’’

Reflected Mike Woods of Naples, “This was the second race for me and my wife. We came to the Coke Zero 400 in July. It was great other than the traffic, which we spent two hours in. We have been fans for years but decided to make the trek down for this one.’’

‘Alright experience’
Even local Blacks came out and took apart of the action.

“I had a good time and plus it didn’t rain. It was just kind of a disappointment that my favorite driver Dale Ernhardt, Jr. didn’t win,” commented George Simpson of Daytona Beach.

Daytona native Evelyn Brown said, “This was my first year coming to the race and it was an alright experience overall.”

The Daytona 500 had a spectacular finish as Jimmy Johnson held off former teammate Earnhardt to take the checkered flag.

Johnson won the race for the second time. The five-time Sprint Cup Series Champion also made his 400th NASCAR start in the race.

“It was perfect; both my drivers did well. Ernhardt was second and Danica was eighth. It was a good day,” noted Woods.

Top finishers
Sherman added, “It was a great finish. I was rooting for Earnhardt, Jr., but I had a feeling that Jimmy Johnson was going to win it. I wanted Danica Patrick to have a chance. I wished that she had taken a chance at the end.’’

The top 10 finishers were Johnson, Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Brad Kaselowski, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Regan Smith, Danica Patrick, Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley.

“I wish that Danica would have pulled it off… I was actually rooting for Kasey Khane, but he was out of it early,” stated Buscher.

History for Patrick
Patrick, a female driver made history during this year’s Daytona 500 and its surrounding events.

She became the first woman to finish in the top 10 in the race with her eighth-place finish. In addition, she was the first woman to win a pole, the first woman to hold the top starting position and the first to lead laps (90-91) for the event.

Patrick is also the only woman to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. She led laps in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, which is the top race in the Indy Car series and finished third in that race.

“I think that she is awesome and it was good for her to do well. I was surprised that she stayed up front. She is doing an excellent job. Many are rooting for her,” said Woods.

Patrick is among the most popular drivers in the sport at this time. She has the highest popularity rating for NASCAR drivers and her performance during the event raised TV ratings. This year’s Daytona 500 had a 9.9 rating and 22 percent share up 24 percent from last year.

“I think that her success could help the sport’s popularity, especially if she starts winning races,” mentioned Brown.

NASCAR and Blacks
There is no secret that NASCAR is reaching out to minorities. It has several programs for minorities, including a minority driver program, internships, scholarships and programs that put cars in areas where the sport isn’t as popular.

At this year’s Daytona 500, several celebrity African-Americans were spotted, including rappers 50 Cent and T.I. along with newly retired NFL great Ray Lewis. The recent Super Bowl champ waved the green flag to begin the race.

Black spectators had an opinion and ideas on how the sport can diversify its fan base. It starts with Black drivers, they noted.

“If we had an African-American driver on the largest scene, it may happen. I think that in a couple of years it is possible that we will see one,” Simpson noted.

Sherman of Gainesville agreed, “They need to at least put one Black driver in the Sprint Cup Series. Even if they train him up through ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) or Nationwide Series. They just need to take a chance on him and the sponsors do too.”

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