Can NASCAR Be Saved From Itself?
For the last decade, NASCAR has tried to shed its legacy as a sport indelibly linked to the confederate flag. Motorsports execs understand that if their sport is ever to go global, burning rubber can't be associated with burning crosses. However, despite NASCAR's efforts to improve their image, it's still a sport where racism thrives below the surface and sexism in the form of bikini-clad NASCAR eye candy is proudly paraded around the speedway, as much a part of the scenery as the stars and bars. NASCAR is in danger of being marginalized by this contradiction. They're attempting to reach an international audience while displaying the worst kind of backward provincialism.
NASCAR execs' preoccupation with having their cake and eating it too has long been a recipe for disaster. Now there is an ingredient that could ruin their entire corporate feast: Mauricia Grant. In 2005, Grant became the first black, female inspection official in the sport's history. Two years later she was fired. Now Grant has filed a $225 million harassment lawsuit against NASCAR alleging "racial and sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination."
"I loved it. It was a great, exciting, adrenaline-filled job where I worked with fast cars and the best drivers in the world," Grant told The Associated Press. "But there was an ongoing daily pattern [of harassment]. It was the nature of the people I worked with, the people who ran it, it trickled down from the top."
The lawsuit details twenty-three specific incidents of sexual harassment and thirty-four specific incidents of alleged racial and gender discrimination over a two-year span. It is a fairly mindnumbing recitation of similar stories that go well beyond anyone's notion of political correctness.
Grant has accused two NASCAR officials, Tim Knox and Bud Moore, of exposing themselves to her as well. They are now on "indefinite administrative paid leave" although NASCAR suspiciously says it has nothing to do with the lawsuit.
Grant claims she was called "Nappy Headed Mo" and "Queen Sheba." She had a coworker who liked to talk casually about the Ku Klux Klan. Another white official named, oddly enough, David Duke, sent her a text message that read, "I love all Yall mofos i am that niggaHAHAHAHollaPIMPALICIOUS."
So far, NASCAR's response to Grant's allegations has been to go into attack mode. Chairman Brian France said, "The disappointing thing is she makes a lot of claims, none of them reported, The fact that it went on as she stated, for many months, but never bothered to tell anyone at management what was going on--which is what our policy says--is very disappointing." Grant claims she did tell others but that she was told to let it go because her tormenters were "former military guys" with a rough sense of humor.
Mike Wilford, who is named in the suit and has since left NASCAR, told The Associated Press that Grant was in on the offensive "jokes" the whole time. "Graphic and lewd jokes? She participated in them. She laughed, she would never say it was inappropriate," Wilford claims. "She asked to be called the only two names she was ever called. She called herself Mo Money all the time."
Needless to say, this scandal could destroy NASCAR, or at the very least, put it in permanent marketing purgatory. Ironically the person perhaps best-equipped to save NASCAR from itself is Mauricia Grant.
Grant has said, "We have to work together to change the racist culture. Anyone that has an interest in motorsports, they should be allowed to work in that environment without having to deal with racism or sexism."
Grant's love of motorsports is so intense, so pure, that she can separate the beauty of the sport from the ugly underbelly desperately clinging to its wheels. Perhaps she could even inspire NASCAR fans to get up and demonstrate--whether it be at Daytona or Talladega--to show that intolerance and gender inequality are not the cornerstones of the sport they love.