Brad Daugherty is co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing, an NBC Sports NASCAR analyst and a five-time NBA All-Star.
Now that the first checkered flag of the NASCAR season has waved at Daytona, there’s an atmosphere and sense of opportunity that I’ve never seen, and I’ve been a fan of racing all my life.
There are business and social factors at play right now that give the sport a chance to evolve at every level.
Let’s talk business first. One of the most difficult things about NASCAR, from a business perspective, is that unlike the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NFL, we as owners don’t work the same way as the major team sports—we are way more independent. That means I have to show up, build my team, raise all the money to pay all the bills, and race—but under a set of rules legislated to me by a governing body that doesn’t do any direct revenue-sharing the way the other big sports leagues do. On top of that, there’s an old guard that makes it difficult for anyone to come in as a new owner and flourish.
Over the years we’ve had people like Jerry Jones and Roger Staubach, other big names with resources to match, show interest in ownership, but they look at it and say, Well, I don’t know about this. I can’t see the endgame.
That’s always worried me, because I’m concerned about the sustainability of the sport.
But the bright side is what’s going on today with the extension of the Charter ownership system through 2024, which allows new owners to get involved and see an opportunity to actually compete.
I’m an owner of a smaller team, but we bought and maintain a 100,000-square-foot building filled with expensive tools and machinery, pay two Cup drivers and around 75 employees. And we’re competing with teams that have 400 to 600 employees and way more money.
As you rise to the highest levels of auto racing, there’s a color barrier, and it’s green. Without revenue sharing, it’s led to a case of haves and have-nots.
But the Charter system may be starting to change that. People who want to get into the business can buy a Charter, and that cost is substantial, but then they can do an alliance with an established team and get into the game. Trackhouse Racing may be the new model here. They don’t need their own shop, or their own employees. Their alliance with Richard Childress Racing allows them to put together a team without spending a tremendous amount on overhead.
The rise of these teams is pointing toward another important economic factor: the new race car that makes its debut in 2022. The whole idea behind the Next Gen car is more sustainability. There will be parts and pieces that are more standardized and can just be bolted onto the car. All of this should make it more affordable to have a competitive team—and as important, a better opportunity to invest in our product and get a return.
And that brings me to the social factors that can bring sustainable change to NASCAR. I’m a country kid from a small town in North Carolina. All of my friends who weren’t family were white, and I grew up with a lot of the same interests my friends had, including racing. But I noticed that when I went to the track, I didn’t see many faces of color.
I’ve been around NASCAR since the mid-1980s, and in the background, I’ve tried to get more people of color included, from pit teams to the executive side. I wanted to get Bubba Wallace to drive for my team, but we just couldn’t work it out financially.
This is all important to me because I know a lot of people of color who love the sport like I do and just haven’t had the opportunities to get involved. But many of them have also just felt it was not the place to be because of the symbolism. I understand. Even though I’m a country kid, it makes my skin crawl when I see a Confederate flag.
For decades, I had conversations with people in NASCAR about it, but this was an issue that hit them in the breadbasket, and they’re running a business.
And then last year, with the reaction to George Floyd and other incidents of racism, our world spun on a dime. People had enough. And that created opportunities for situations like NASCAR’s, where Steve Phelps stepped up and said: “That’s it. We’re banning the flag.”
I was shocked, and so were all the folks of color in the sport. And then the incident happened in Talladega, where a pull-cord in the shape of a noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage. NASCAR immediately got on top of it. They got the FBI involved. They made it clear where they stood.
I’ve never been so proud of NASCAR. There’s a segment of their fan base they could lose by reacting like that and by banning the flag. But they did it anyway. It’s late in the game, in my opinion, but they’ve done it.
How to go forward? Well, now Michael Jordan’s getting involved in NASCAR. I’ve known him a long time, and it’s been interesting watching him evolve. I was curious about his motive, but he’s made it very clear: He wants to help Bubba Wallace get his opportunity.
And now you’re seeing Pitbull coming in, saying NASCAR looks better. It looks sustainable. It looks like something you can invest in, and do yourself proud. You can be part of a sport that’s going to evolve and create opportunities for people of color, all the way to the highest level.
Daugherty, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, was the No. 1 pick in the 1986 NBA draft and played eight seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has been involved in motorsports as an owner since the late 1980s.