NASCAR Critic Endorses Diversity Program

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

( - The legal group that protested NASCAR's support of Jesse Jackson's organizations has endorsed NASCAR's new diversity program designed to increase minority participation in stock car auto racing.

"Drive for Diversity" is organized by Access Marketing and Communications of Charlotte, N.C. In January 2004, the group held tryouts for four drivers in NASCAR's lowest level of competition, the Dodge Weekly Series, and for six to twelve crew members in the Craftsman Truck Series, which is also below the Nextel Cup series.

"I welcome what NASCAR is doing. I am gratified NASCAR has taken our advice. I am happy that our protest last year is having such a positive impact now," said National Legal and Policy Center President Peter Flaherty in reaction to NASCAR's new initiative.

Flaherty has previously blasted NASCAR for "paying off" Jackson, instead of supporting real minority recruitment and training.

NASCAR contributed at least $250,000 to Jackson's "nonprofit" groups in 2001 and 2002, according to the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC). The payments came after Jackson complained that there were no black drivers in the Winston Cup series, NASCAR's "big leagues," now known as the Nextel Cup series.

NASCAR's CEO George Pyne was quoted in the Feb. 13 USA Today as saying, "If you are trying to develop the next Jeff Gordon, the next Tony Stewart, the next Bobby Labonte, you're going to have to take it from a grass-roots approach."

Flaherty says he advocated the same thing in 2003, repeatedly pointing out that it was not possible to simply put a driver in a race car based on skin color, and that blacks should be encouraged to work their way up the ladder like others.

Former NFL star Reggie White, who is involved with a NASCAR race team headed by Joe Gibbs, the former (and recently rehired) coach of the Washington Redskins, echoed Flaherty's criticism.

White, who is African-American, said during a July 16 Fox News Channel interview, "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."

On Oct. 2, 2003, Flaherty wrote new NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France to inform him that NLPC would resume its protest if it becomes aware of additional NASCAR monetary support for Jackson or his groups, either directly or indirectly.

In 2001, NLPC filed a formal IRS complaint against the Citizenship Education Fund (CEF), Jesse Jackson's largest nonprofit group. The complaint is still pending.

In 2002, Toyota stopped public support for Jackson's organizations in response to a NLPC request. In late 2003, the New York Stock Exchange denied Jackson use of the Exchange floor for a fundraising event, in response to NLPC.

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