Magic Johnson saw his first Nextel Cup race Sunday, the Pop Secret 500 at California Speedway, but the former Laker superstar figured that, in the last few months, he’d made progress in learning the sport.
Said Johnson, chairman of the steering committee of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity: “What I’ve learned the most is that there’s a lot of closet minority fans. My office is flooded with calls. I’m saying to myself, ‘Wow! And I thought we had a problem.’ ”
The program is NASCAR’s attempt to involve minorities, as fans, officials, mechanics, salespeople and, ultimately, drivers. Johnson has been directing the project since February.
“I’ve had about 30 meetings, so far, with minorities who want to be involved in NASCAR,” he said. “I’ve been fielding a lot of phone calls [from NASCAR insiders]. There’s a lot of people in the sport who want to be involved. So I’m trying to understand the sport....
“I’ll continue to educate myself, because the more I know, the more I can share.... When I see 120,000 people here, I want 10,000 to 20,000 of those to be minorities. That’s the good part of this sport, it’s for all people.
“Yes, I want a driver someday, but the biggest goal to me is more minorities in the sport, fans, crewmen, mechanics, the people selling shirts and caps.”
Johnson said corporate America had expressed interest.
“Minorities love cars and speed,” he said. “That’s not a hard sell. And we don’t want to take over the sport, or anything like that. We just want to be a part of it. If we never get a driver, that’s OK, as long as we get [other] people in the sport.”
Johnson wasn’t the only celebrity athlete at Sunday’s race. Three recent Olympians were on hand: swimmer Amanda Beard, softball player Leah O’Brien-Amico and shooter Kim Rhode.
Elliott Sadler was so elated that his win clinched a berth in the Nextel Cup’s chase for the championship that he said he is already thinking about getting his tuxedo ready.
“I’m going to get it all fitted up so I can look all snazzy when I go up on the stage in New York,” he said.
Sadler was a promising basketball player with a scholarship to James Madison University after being recruited by Lefty Driesell before he suffered a knee injury.
“After I got hurt, I had to pursue a sit-down job,” Sadler said.
Ken Schrader finished with a broken car after sliding into the wall late in the race, but it was the Missourian’s record 16th start at California Speedway. He has appeared in six Winston West races, winning two, two Craftsman truck races and eight Cup events.