Posted on July 1, 2004

Jesse Jackson to NASCAR: “Negroes Can Drive Cars Fast”

Marc Morano,

Jesse Jackson says NASCAR should feature more African-American drivers because “negroes can drive cars fast.”

Jackson made the remarks on Tuesday at a NASCAR-sponsored sports luncheon at the 33rd Annual Rainbow/PUSH Coalition conference in Chicago.

“One thing I know, negroes can drive cars fast,” Jackson said to laughter. “I mean, we go through red lights, even [drive] at night with our lights off. We can drive cars fast,” he asserted from the podium.

NASCAR’s sponsorship of the sports luncheon at this week’s conference is contrary to previous reports indicating that NASCAR had ended its financial support of Jackson and his organizations in 2003 because of negative public pressure.

By 2003, NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) had reportedly given a total of $250,000 to the Rainbow/PUSH sports division, generating criticism from conservative groups and racing fans, who saw the money as appeasement. But at this week’s conference, NASCAR had nothing but positive things to say about Jesse Jackson.

George Pyne, NASCAR’s vice president of marketing, told the crowd at Tuesday’s sports luncheon, “I would like to thank Reverend Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition for being positive catalysts for change. It is an honor to be here today.”

Pyne left no doubt that NASCAR was currently supporting Jackson.

“To the extent that Rainbow/PUSH is committed to making NASCAR more diverse, we support them,” Pyne said in an interview with following the luncheon.

Pyne was unequivocal in his defense of NASCAR’s decision to support Jackson.

“I would point out that there are a number of Fortune 500 companies that support Rainbow/PUSH and every other major sport America supports, or a number of major sports entities, support Rainbow PUSH,” Pyne said.

“We certainly would think that we would want to be in step with the other sports and corporations in America, and it’s consistent with how we approach the business,” he added.

‘NASCAR fans will be appalled’

One person not happy about NASCAR’s embrace of Jackson is Peter Flaherty of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center. In 2003, Flaherty launched a campaign to end NASCAR’s support of Jackson because of Jackson’s anti-war rhetoric and past financial dealings with corporations.

“Despite the expression of opposition from thousands of NASCAR’s fans last year to NASCAR’s support of Jackson, it looks like NASCAR is now fully embracing him” Flaherty, the president of the Virginia-based legal group, told on Wednesday.

“I believe they are making a mistake and I believe that many, many NASCAR fans will be appalled at this new development,” he added.

‘Morally right’

Pyne couched NASCAR’s support of Jackson in righteous terms. “We believe what we are doing is morally right and good for the business,” he said.

“Everybody may not agree every single time with who we support, but that is what America is all about,” he added.

Pyne declined to disclose how much NASCAR had contributed to Jackson this year. The NASCAR-sponsored luncheon was attended by about 500 people.

“I am not going to get into specifics of what our support is with specific organizations. We support many, many, many civil rights organizations and other organizations committed to making NASCAR more diverse,” Pyne explained.

When asked about Rainbow/PUSH board member Bill Shack’s comments at last year’s conference that auto-racing organizations such as NASCAR were ‘the last bastion of white supremacy,” Pyne defected the criticism.

“I can’t speak to what other people say. What I can tell you is every American is welcome at NASCAR. So we are here to talk about positive things,” Pyne said.

Jackson’s Rainbow Sports Director Charles Farrell later defended Shack’s comments, telling that in 2003, even NASCAR conceded “there is a perception that stock car racing is a good ole’ boy’s southern redneck cracker sport.”

For his part, Shack seemed to back away from his own harsh rhetoric of last year.

“[NASCAR] appear[s] to be moving in the right direction. They appear to have an attitudinal shift. I think that they are making progress,” Shack said following Tuesday’s luncheon.

‘Cultural fear based upon ancient myths’

Jackson was upbeat about NASCAR and the motor sports diversity effort.

“There is no longer the kind of cultural fear based upon ancient myths. Everyone sees inclusion leads to growth,” Jackson told

“What I am most impressed with in regards to NASCAR is the drivers are so open to black drivers,” he added.

According to Jackson, now that NASCAR is firmly in the Rainbow/PUSH camp, the next effort is going to involve challenging the corporate sponsors of motor sports to finance minority drivers.

“It is not resistance by NASCAR now, it is now meeting with corporations that engage in diversity in other areas–supplier diversity, employment diversity–but many of them have zero by their name in race car investment,” Jackson explained.

NASCAR series team owner Sam Belnavis said NASCAR really only cares about one color in the final analysis.

“The key to NASCAR is green. It has nothing to do with race, color, creed,” Belnavis said, referring to the sports desire to be profitable.

‘Lost touch’

Flaherty of the NLPC says NASCAR’s enthusiastic support of Jackson is out of step with the motor sports fans.

‘It says to me that NASCAR has completely lost touch with the average NASCAR fan who is NASCAR’s customer,” he said.

Former NFL great Reggie White also pressured NASCAR in 2003 to s funding Jackson when he accused Jackson of wasting the $250,000 given to him by the racing organization.

“It’s really disappointing to me that Jesse and his organization would take a quarter of a million dollars from NASCAR and not do anything with it to try to get black drivers into the sport,” White said in an interview on FOX News Channel’s Fox & Friends in July 2003.

White is involved in his own motor sports minority outreach program with NFL Coach Joe Gibbs. Gibbs is also the owner of the Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Flaherty did applaud NASCAR’s minority outreach programs that did not involve Jackson.

“I am encouraged that NASCAR is working with other prominent African-Americans like [former Republican Congressman] JC Watts to reach out to minorities,” Flaherty said.

“But as long as NASCAR is bankrolling Jesse Jackson, there is going to be controversy,” he cautioned.