Saturday, July 29, 2006

Minorities, Hot Rod Racing and Firsts

I’m not into hot rod racing. In fact, I know nothing about it. The closest I’ve ever gotten to a love of cars was almost scaring my parents to death when I had a brief love of sniffing the gas fumes that would rise from the 57 Chevy my mother owned when they warmed the car up.

However, I saw a piece today on CNN World Sport about J.R. Todd who a couple of weeks ago became the first African-American man to win a major hot rod race. On top of being the first African-American to win a major hot rod race, he beat Tony Schumacher on July 16.

Rookie J.R. Todd upset Tony Schumacher Sunday afternoon at the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals to score his first NHRA POWERade Series Top Fuel victory in just his ninth career start.

Todd, who with the victory becomes the first African-American to win an NHRA Top Fuel title, never trailed in the race at Bandimere Speedway, dismissing the three-time series champion with a performance of 4.906 at 291.63 mph in his Skull Shine/Torco Race Fuels dragster to Schumacher's 4.966 at 306.33 mph in the U.S. Army dragster.

"You never expect to get your first NHRA win by outrunning Tony Schumacher in the final," Todd said. "I didn't even know how to act down there. I was stunned. To beat that team straight up is almost unbelievable. They were talking about me being the first African-American to win in Top Fuel but out here it's all equal, especially when the helmet goes on." (from J.R. Todd Becomes First African-American to Win in Top Fuel)

The thing touched me about the story is he didn’t even realize he was the first. He was more focused on the fact that he'd own against Schumacher who is a distinguished racer who comes with a distinguished hot rod racing pedigree. Also, he says this is because the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) has a fair number of minority and female drivers already.

Black drivers have won NHRA events, but never in one of the top two nitro divisions, Top Fuel and Funny Car. Todd said he's glad he struck a blow for diversity, but he believes NHRA is already well ahead of the other motorsports in the country on the subject.

Todd is one of three Black drivers currently competing in the NHRA, including Antron Brown and Michael Phillips in Pro Stock Motorcycle. There are five women racers, including three-time motorcycle champion Angelle Sampey and Top Fuel star Melanie Troxel, and the Pedregon brothers, Tony, Cruz and Frank, were the first Latino racing team and have combined for 63 wins.

Todd's victory was saluted by his competitors, but not because of his ethnicity. (from NHRA racer Todd is making his move)

I really do admire any first time achievements by African-Americans in any field. I just think it’s nice that 40 years after the peak of the Civil Rights movement that when one of us is the first now, it’s not the first thing that we think about.

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