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02/16/2009: Diversity in racing

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
It's no news that there is a lack of diversity in almost all forms of motorsport, despite the fact that there have been several champions in recent years that are ethnic/racial minorities (James Stewart and Lewis Hamilton come to mind). Sticking to talk about ethnicity and race for now (gender being a whole other issue for another discussion), will these recent champions open the door for other minorities and will we soon see increased diversity at the top level of the sport? The way we're going, I don't really think so, at least not anytime soon.

I think most would agree that a more diverse driver lineup would help the image of the sport and potentially expand its fanbase. This is particularly true in the United States, one of the most diverse countries in the world, but one where American racers are overwhelmingly white. I believe that there are many team owners, organizers, etc. that would love to have more minorities racing for them. And I know there are plenty of Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc. kids out there that would love the chance to race. But right now, few ever get the chance.

The first and most obvious issue is money. Needing a six digit budget to just progress a career to the point of getting a chance at the higher levels significantly limits the pool of drivers. But it's more then just cash. Consider getting started in karting - you need money to buy a kart and trailer. Then you need a truck to haul everything, a garage to store everything and tools to work on everything. And what if your Daddy doesn't know how to rebuild a kart engine? What if you live far from the nearest kart track? And considering how fragmented karting is, how hard is it to just figure out how to get involved? Obviously these are challenges for all up and coming racers. But perhaps they are bigger challenges for groups that have traditionally not been involved in racing.

I think most would agree that the solution is not to offer an opportunity to one based on one characteristic - whether that's gender, race or legacy status. I believe the real solution is to increase minority involvement at the lowest levels, and then let best rise to the top! This would require lowering costs and increasing access at the entry level.

In recent years, there's been big growth in arrive and drive indoor karting. Indoor karting is great for many reasons. It is relatively cheap and does not involve owning or working on your own equipment. Since everyone drives the same karts, its hard to outspend the other guy, and things are simpler and easier to understand - no 20 different classes for each different type of kart. Finally indoor kartng centers are also generally located close to major population centers.

But the problem is indoor karting is generally still viewed as a recreational thing. Being fast at your local indoor karting track isn't going to get you noticed. There's little opportunity to move up without switching over to the traditional karting path which comes with all the obstacles described above.

So, I believe the solution is to elevate the top level of indoor karting to a point where the top indoor karting drivers are noticed and given opportunities, or create another level above current indoor karting, perhaps on bigger tracks or with higher performance vehicles, but that but still retains the accessibility of current indoor karting.

Until entry level racing is more accessible, I think we'll continue to see just a few drivers of color here and there given a chance with mixed results.
Category: General
Posted by: Mike
No doubt, the current economic recession is effecting racing - just look at the hits at top levels of racing across all disciplines. I believe these effects will have an everlasting impact.

Things are going to change in racing sooner then later. What's going to happen? Who knows? I certainly don't. Definitely rule changes to lower needless costs that do nothing to improve competition or safety. Definitely the rise of alternative power sources. Maybe development of new technologies and materials that have applications outside of racing? Or maybe closer to spec racing? Maybe all this will allow whole new series to rise to prominence. Maybe whole new disciplines of racing!

What's for sure? racing will not go away, changes are coming and in the end, if people are smart, racing could be bigger then ever, and I want to be a part of it.