by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.June 14, 2009 7:39 pm UTC No Comments
It’s old news now, but last week’s suspension of Nationwide Series crew chief Bryan Berry for allegedly yelling a racial slur at African-American driver Marc Davis certainly turned a lot of heads around the sport. NASCAR is still having issues with diversity, with virtually all of its drivers still white males, the lingering effects of the Mauricia Grant case, and even a weak rumor of an NAACP boycott of the sport due to the continued presence of the Confederate flag on motorhomes.
So when Davis took out Berry’s driver, Brendan Gaughan, at last week’s Nationwide race in Nashville, and the alleged war of words occurred, it was no shock that NASCAR handed out an indefinite suspension to the offender. Racism is a touchy subject in NASCAR, and racial epithets are not okay, nor should they be, especially when the sport is trying to grow out of its Southern roots and attract a diverse crowd.
What was shocking, however, was Harry Davis, the father of Marc Davis, calling Gaughan’s owner, Rusty Wallace, to apologize – for Gaughan’s actions. Davis told Scene Daily yesterday that Gaughan’s anger, as well as commenting that Georgetown University (Gaughan’s alma mater) was superior to Howard University (a historically black college that sponsors Davis), “inflamed” the situation.
Certainly, a bigger deal was made out of the situation than was necessary. Gaughan wasn’t on the lead lap or contending for the win, although he was still in the top 20. He and Berry could have done better to restrain themselves after the incident, as heavy as the damage to their car was. Certainly, Wallace won’t tolerate team members who don’t conduct themselves as professionals (even if the 1989 Winston attests to his crews having a history of scuffling).
But Harry Davis placing the entirety of the blame for the incident on Gaughan crossed a line. It implied a lot of things – first and foremost, that Davis was completely free of blame in the wreck. Watch the incident – that’s not the case.
Gaughan was still in the race, and while a lapped car, still contending for points and a championship. Davis was pulling into the garage and is running a limited schedule. The right of way should have gone to the competitive car. Davis should have let Gaughan by before turning. It wouldn’t have caused a jam on pit road, as there were no cars within a football field behind them. Especially if there are multiple turn-ins to the garage, the fault – at least on track – goes completely to Davis.
Second, it implied that Harry Davis is willing to continually cite race (as in skin color, not cars driving in circles) in reference to his son’s career, and therein lies the bigger problem. The best way to make the issue of race in NASCAR go away is to brush off and forgive the ignorant comments, rather than use them to attack the character of those who make them. That phone call did nothing but prolong the conflict, one that should have ended right when NASCAR handed down the suspension.
Now, if everything that’s alleged to have been said was really said, there’s no excuse for the conduct of the No. 62 team. But saying his apology was for Gaughan’s actions only will hurt Harry Davis, and in turn it will likely hurt the racing career of his son. Owners will probably think twice now before giving Marc a shot, knowing that if another similar incident goes down, his defense of his son may cross similar lines. Sponsors, believing that the issue of race will continue to be a factor in Davis’ racing career, may not want to back him, seeing their names on TV if another conflict breaks out.
This is an incredibly touchy subject, and I don’t want to be taken the wrong way. I am in no way defending anything that Berry or Gaughan said. If Berry used a racial epithet, then he deserves a forced break from the sport. Gaughan, too, might have deserved a suspension. I also believe that in the right equipment, Marc Davis will be a solid Sprint Cup driver someday, and that he simply made a rookie mistake. But Harry Davis’ actions were out of line – not as much as Gaughan’s or Berry’s, but out of line nonetheless.
Let’s hope that in the future, all parties will do a better job of conducting themselves – at and away from the track.