Is drag racing the epitome of diversity?
Diversity may be an over-used word that purportedly refers to a variety of gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, etc. In motorsports, as in business, diversity is pursued with many programs offering supposed advantages for those that some in society believe are at a disadvantage. Nascar has had for many years, a campaign called “Drive for Diversity”, pouring millions of dollars for the ability to produce women and minority drivers. Maybe commendable on their part but technically a failure as no driver has ever come from the “Drive for Diversity” program to become a regular driver in any of the Nascar big 3 divisions. I could go into the unintended consequences of these agenda’s but that’s for another place.
In drag racing, we have no diversity programs – and it works great.
Since it’s inception, drag racing has had minorities involved. Drag racing is the most diverse motorsport. Why? Well, to delve into the sociological reasons would be long and monotonous, but let’s look at one corner of it. Before we get carried away, yes, women did take about a decade longer before they starting fitting into the scene but diversity, whether with women or different ethnicities (or both like Peggy Llewellyn), has been a part of the fabric of our sport. In fact the NHRA, with absolutely no program to promote diversity, won the Urban Wheel’s Diversity in Motorsports Award.
In the 1950’s, when drag racing started, the core of it was in California. For whatever reasons, the racial overtones of life and strife in 20th Century U.S., had not permeated the West Coast as severely. During this earliest days of drag racing, diversity was a common occurrence with drag racers more concerned with going fast than the color of ones skin or what gender they were. ‘Flaming Frank’ Pedregon, Malcolm Durham, Shirley Shahan and the legendary Shirley Muldowney were early representatives of successful drag racers that weren’t white men. By the way, check out the motorcycle classes and it may astound you as to how many people of wide-ranging colors and sex there are – as I’ve seen fields of Pro Stock Bike with a majority of minorities.
Drag racing is truly a rainbow coalition of Americans where red, white and blue (or better yet, green) are far more important than brown, white or black. And currently there’s so many it’s almost not fair to list anyone but Antron Brown, Hector Arana, Melanie Troxel and Karen Stoffer are typical examples of victorious ‘minorities’.
Antron Brown just won the Top Fuel championship in the NHRA, becoming the first black American to win any professional motorsports title. Now that wouldn’t be such a big deal to any of us in drag racing but to the rest of the world, it’s big news. And that’s what separates our sports family from others. We don’t look at color of skin, but rather the color of money that gets us to the next race.
Some have said the deep amateur depth that drag racing presents, with the ability to race any kind of car, in their all-inclusive categories (bracket racing), gives the sport a natural draw that other sports just can’t offer. It’s also been stated, because everyone drives and understands the rudimentary aspects of speed, more people can relate to drag racing from the earliest of ages. Plus with all the role models, this cultural mix has an additional drawing appeal. Whatever the reasons, the sport has an obvious attraction that other motorsports could only wish for. And the opportunities for minorities and women are like no other sport, period. Working hard in what you believe in, is the American dream and drag racing puts forward these opportunities like few other sports do – with an equal baseline … the quickest driver wins.
Too short? Too skinny? Too feminine? Too fat? Too slow? Too black? It doesn’t matter as drag racing’s only concern is: Can you get your car to the other end before the other person does.
And does pointing out differences among us, defeat the purpose of diversity?
When compared with stick-and-ball sports, sure, drag racing doesn’t seem that diverse, but I would state that maybe drag racing is more like America as a whole and in fact may represent the country more ideally than any other sport. Is there racism and bigotry in drag racing? Ha, that’s like asking does the sun shine – of course there is. But what’s different is a vast majority of the time, drag racers never even realize how diverse they are until others bring it up … and that may well be the key – they just see a racer, not a race or gender.
Is drag racing the All-American sport? You be the judge.