Recently, there was this incident at a track test in Spain.
A sad thing happened at Formula One testing last weekend outside of Barcelona. Fans attending the test spewed racist taunts at Lewis Hamilton, who last year became the first black driver in series history. A photograph from the Times of London showed four spectators in black face. They wore T-shirts that said “Hamilton’s Family.”
Before I say anything else, this is not a moral high ground post by any means. This is because, the U.S. had its share of dark hours. The Klan (and other white supremacist groups), Jim Crow laws, and other blatant discriminations have not been a high point, in our history. The terror, the fear created by it, and the lives lost/affected were once widespread throughout the south and other parts of the nation.
However, when I look back and study those days and line them up next to today, I see how far we have come from those days. I see a vast amount of progress, but this is not to say that everything is fine. I say this only because it's a fact that there are still too many racial incidents, here in America. And in my view, any is too many.
With all of this in mind, lets consider one area of marked improvement from the the 50s and 60s, when I was just a lad. I lived in Southern California and there were incidents at sporting events like this, at times. Who could forget the way Jackie Robinson was treated or any other pioneers of this magnitude, for that matter? It wasn't pretty and certainly was nothing to be proud of.
Today, these incidents are almost non-existent at the national level. I am sure there are some isolated incidents scattered around at the local level. Some go unreported, so we never know exactly how many. But even that has subsided greatly, over the years. Basketball, baseball, football, and racing are huge spectator events. While the first three are well-integrated and management is growing more diverse, racing has not integrated.
American racing has seen some minimal participation with minority drivers in the past. Willie T. Ribbs Jr. was one driver. He was the first African-American to qualify for an Indianapolis 500, in a car owned by the comedian Bill Cosby. He qualified in 1991 and 1993 (his highest finish was 21st, in 93).
At that time, there were no incidents like the display in Spain, and there were none when Lewis Hamilton won last year's (and what may be final) U.S. Grand Prix, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In fact, he got a hero's reception. He was cheered greatly, in stark contrast to his reception on the Iberian peninsula. American racing moguls have tried to market their product more in the minority communities, but it just hasn't caught on as fast as they would like. They would love nothing more than to attract African-American Team owners and drivers. But, what do you do when no one wants to do it?
Knowing this, one must wonder, why does Spain have two Formula One races and none at the famed Speedway? You have to wonder why F-1 would want to go where there are acts of misbehavior toward a driver and reject a place where there wasn't any. Why did Bernie Ecclestone decide that it was too much hassle to work with IMS President Tony George? They drew the largest crowds of any F-1 race, Tony spent his own money to modify the track to their specifications, and did most if not all of the marketing. It was a sweet deal for F-1.
Mr. George is too much of a gentleman to air the reasons. So to get the answer, you'll have to ask Mr Ecclestone. But I suspect you will get nowhere, except for the usual aristocratic undertones.