Brad Daugherty said in June that the root of NASCAR's diversity issue isn't black or white.
"It's green," Daugherty said about the financial barriers to the sport.
Daugherty, who's Black, is a team owner of NASCAR's JTG Daugherty Racing, a former NBA player and a longtime sports analyst. He briefly touched on the economics of racing on a call with reporters a few days after the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, in which a rope shaped like a noose was found in the garage stall of driver Bubba Wallace – an act the FBI later determined was not a hate crime.
Daugherty's remarks at the time focused on the impact of the moment and cultural shift in NASCAR in the wake of the Confederate flag ban. His time was limited, and the news cycle spun along with coronavirus updates and presidential tweets in the weeks that followed.
Daugherty is back in front of cameras regularly offering his insights as an analyst with NBC NASCAR's broadcast team. It's a new network, but not necessarily a new role for the Asheville native, who served as a longtime basketball and NASCAR analyst for ESPN.
The 54-year-old is working with familiar faces on the show, including Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, but it's also been a year in NASCAR like no other, and broadcast partners are learning how to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic while continuing to cover the sport. Daugherty discussed those challenges, the challenges of team ownership in a pandemic ("I'm worn out on Zoom calls"), why NASCAR's piquing the interest of other athletes and where he hopes to see Wallace land a contract next season in an exclusive interview with The Observer.
He also expanded on those comments from June.
"Even if you go through the diversity program, once you bounce out of that in today's world, it's difficult if you can't write a check," Daugherty said.
Read below for Brad Daughtery's full interview with NASCAR reporter Alex Andrejev. This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Alex Andrejev: This is the first time you're commentating on NBC and it's in this crazy situation with the pandemic. What's that been like? How did Michigan go?
Brad Daugherty: (Laughs) It's been unique. I will say that. This weekend was my first opportunity to work with those folks and I was told we would ease into things and everything would work pretty systematically, and I get there, and we're all quarantined off in our own little cubby areas. It's interesting because I'm really kind of boisterous and touchy-feely with all my friends, and I'm an emotional type of person, so I like to feed off of other people. And it's interesting talking to someone and they're either in another room or really, really far away. But I think the way they have it set up is really about the best way you can do it. Obviously, not being at the racetrack and watching the action live is tough, but we're all doing the best we can and making the most of it and I think we did a pretty good job. (At Michigan) we started out with the Xfinity broadcast, then got the lightning delay so we had to scramble, and then our pre-race show got pushed up into that. It was a little bit chaotic, but it worked out.
AA: How often are you getting to the shop? And how about the races? Have you been to any in person this year?
BD: I've talked about going to a couple (races), but it just didn't work out. I've been in California for the last several months. I just had a first grandchild, so I was hanging out with them, and it's been kind of iffy coming back and forth. I try to get over the race shop a couple of times a month if I can. It's been pretty tough because we're just now getting a full complement of people in there and we're trying to do shifts, and it's just hard. It's really hard. I'll be here more (in Charlotte) doing these broadcasts, so hopefully I'll be able to get to the shop in person more, but I'm worn out on Zoom calls. We've done 18 billion Zoom calls with engineers and people not coming to the race shop. We're doing a lot of stuff from home and it's just difficult, tedious. For a race team of our size, that day-to-day communication, and being able to lean on the race car and talk or meet in the break room is critical for us. It's been hard not being able to have the full complement of people around race cars enough, so hopefully we'll get back to that pretty soon and we'll start running a lot better.
AA: We saw the news about Leavine Family Racing closing last week. Was there ever a moment this season you were worried about the team not being OK financially?
BD: We've always done pretty well financially and I think that the sport as a whole, we are a marketing-based, corporate B2B-based sport. And a lot of our business, no matter who you are or what size race team, takes place at the racetrack. We're very dependent upon fans and our corporate partners being able to have hospitable events with other corporate partners as we work on deals, and that being taken away has made it hard on, yes, race teams my size, but it's hard on everyone. We're at a point now where every race team is looking at infusing capital, and even if you're the biggest race team, you're not shielded from this, because all corporate partners are looking at doing business in a different way because they're all struggling as well, so it's an interesting time. There's always a concern. But we think we're okay and we've done some pretty smart things business-wise and we'll continue to try to develop and evolve, and hopefully at the end of this, we'll be able to come out the other side and have some opportunities to further capitalize. Right now, it's a tough time and you gotta really be aware of that and try to manage the best you can. That's all you can do.
AA: It seems like NASCAR's had an advantage over other sports during the pandemic. How do you think this season's gone for NASCAR?
BD: It's been a historical year for the sport. Obviously, with Bubba Wallace and the removal of the Confederate flag and the cultural shift that we're seeing in our world and how NASCAR has embraced that. I thought that was just remarkable. And then getting back to the sport first through the pandemic. I was on a call with the NBA. I was asked to speak to the players about cultural responsibility, and it was interesting because I was able to utilize NASCAR being smart, with great leadership, and being able to get back to work in a responsible way. Their interest was piqued about the NASCAR model at the executive level simply because of NASCAR's stance culturally, and in the past, that wouldn't have happened, so I've been very proud of where we're at and what we've accomplished. The big concern for every sport – ours, baseball, basketball, football – is we've got to figure out how to get fans back to the arenas and engaged, because that's our lifeblood and it's very, very important that we have that connection and figure out how to do that going forward.
AA: NASCAR and the tracks still need to announce fan policies for most of the playoff races. Do you want to see fans back for those races or does it feel too soon?
BD: I want to see fans back as soon as possible. I just think that the most difficult thing with the coronavirus pandemic is we have such a lack of leadership with this situation, and there's so much politically involved that, as laypeople, we don't know what the correct information is. It's terrible. Sports are trying to make educated decisions. I applaud the NBA. What they've done in Orlando is unbelievable, but that's also a size and dimension thing with their sport. They're able to do that. So, I don't know. I keep waiting for tomorrow to be better news and a better plan, and right now, the folks in NASCAR – Steve Phelps and Steve O'Donnell and all of those people – have done a remarkable job, made some very wise choices and I continue to applaud that, and hopefully will continue to do so each quarter going forward, but at some point, we've got to get people back to the racetrack and enjoying races.
AA: You mentioned how NASCAR interest was piqued in the NBA by the cultural shift. Was that post-Confederate flag ban? What exactly were you referring to?
BD: Yes, It was about two weeks after (the flag ban). People I've known forever, African American people, who have always asked me about racing but just never wanted to go. I'm so excited because they're interested and I can't wait until we can bring fans. I've got 200 guys who want to come watch racing. NASCAR better be prepared with some hot passes cause I've got people that have always thought about it and talked to me about it, but just always felt a little bit unwelcomed and now they no longer feel that. Now they want to come experience race cars at 200 miles an hour. Who doesn't want to want to experience that? I can't wait until I can be the Pied Piper and bring a ton of people to the race track to come check this out.
AA: Is it all NBA guys who are interested?
BD: There are some NBA guys who are very interested. A couple of coaches who are older and grew up around North Carolina and know all about stock car racing. And then there's just a huge mix of people I've known throughout the years. I've got people I know in drag racing who are of color who never really came to stock car races, and buddies who are baseball players or football guys. I know a lot of people and they're all interested and I'm excited.
AA: On a call with reporters in June, you said that money, as much as race, was a barrier in the sport. What did you mean by that?
BD: They're parallel barriers because there was a stigma that kept a lot of people of color away from the racetrack. Not all of it in the 21st century is as well-warranted, but the Confederate flag thing obviously was damaging to people of color who wanted to come to the racetrack. The thing I've always found difficult is like with NASCAR's diversity program, which has worked really hard to try to create opportunity, is that at the end of the day, it's not black or white. It's green. And the barrier to racing becomes so substantial once you get up to the professional level. Today, a lot of race teams are looking at people walking in the door and bringing big checks. And as young African-American kids, you don't have the cultural lineage that some of the other kids who've been in the sport and whose dads have been in it, grandfathers have been in it, great-grandfathers; so there's that disconnect. Even if you go through the diversity program, once you bounce out of that in today's world, it's difficult if you can't write a check. So the barriers are vast and very complicated, and I just hope we can continue to talk about that and have dialogue. We're hoping now with more diversification that some corporations will be more willing to participate and help some of those young African Americans, females and people of color who want to race get another leg up.
AA: So is it part of corporate responsibility? How do you make it more diverse or make it cheaper for prospective talent?
BD: Well, you can't. It's impossible. You have to be in a situation like Bubba. His parents went through a lot to get him to where he's at and that's how most of these kids get here. Their parents are sacrificing and mortgaging and remortgaging, refinancing and for a lot of African American kids, that's not available. The diversity program tries to tackle that to some extent, but once you go through that program, it's still difficult. There are a lot of kids who've come through that program and were really talented and tried. And once they got through the program, they had some moderate success, but it's difficult to figure out how to jump up on that top shelf. It's just hard.
AA: Where do you want to see Bubba next year?
BD: (Team owners) Richard Petty and Andy Murstein and those guys gave him a tremendous opportunity when no one else would. I think he has to look at that very closely. You know, I'm just being selfish. I'd like to see him have the greatest opportunity in the world to win races and obviously one of the largest race teams, one of the four corners of our sport is Hendrick – Hendrick, Stewart-Haas, Penske, Joe Gibbs, those are the four big guys. And everyone talks about all these other drivers, I don't know why his name's not mentioned. I think his name should be mentioned just like those other guys because he's just as talented. It would be unbelievable if he had that opportunity and I think it'd be great for the sport. It'd be great for him. That being said, I do appreciate the opportunity he's got. That's a decision he's got to make. Whatever it is, I support him a hundred percent. He's had to deal with circumstances on his own and he's done a great job and I stay out of his way, watch from afar. I'm really happy and proud of what he's done. I hope he gets a great opportunity whatever it is.
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