DAYTONA BEACH — One long stride put Randy Moss onto the riser in the Daytona International Speedway media center and immediately into one of the sport's most combustible issues.
But the New England Patriots All-Pro wide receiver either hardly noticed or barely cared. The several framed newspaper pages and portraits to the right of the stage had his attention.
A self-described country boy from West Virginia with an affinity for fast cars and finishing on top, whether "playing cards, throwing jacks or doing jumping jacks," Moss came to announce his 50 percent purchase of the Morgan-Dollar Motorsports' truck series team, which he hoped — if he dodged the fate of many athletes who have failed in such NASCAR ventures — would race in the Sprint Cup series.
But as he turned to find his nameplate at a table, pulled out a chair and looked upon a forest of mostly white faces, he quickly realized he was not just a new owner, even as he asserted, "I just consider myself a businessman. I don't really look at color." But with the sport's alleged treatment of minorities in question thanks to a $225-million harassment suit levied by a former official, NASCAR has had to address color. And now so does Moss, 31, who is African-American.
NASCAR went to great lengths the past several years to cultivate an all-inclusive image, not just to further a progressive agenda and dispel negative stereotypes associated with the sport's Southern roots, but to tap into new markets and new revenue streams. The sport and its teams may claim color blindness for black or white, but they all see green.
NASCAR — and a few teams — have minority development programs, though none has yielded a top-three series driver, so Moss and ESPN analyst Brad Daugherty, also African-American, becoming team owners in the past two weeks was major progress.
But former official Mauricia Grant's allegations of mistreatment institutionally ignored by NASCAR threaten to undo much of what has been done, at least in the broader consciousness.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said neither Moss nor Daugherty — a founding member of the sport's diversity council — will be expected to be more than competitors.
"(When Colombian driver) Juan Pablo Montoya came in, first and foremost, he was here to win races," Poston said. "By extension of that, he helps the overall diversity effort and that's a good thing to the extent anyone — whether owner, driver, white or black — anyone who wants to reach out and do more in the name of diversity is a good thing."
Still, NASCAR chairman Brian France has been increasingly bellicose in his rhetoric about the civil suit.
"Naturally, we would like to not have to be dealing with it. But we will," he said. "My own experience through lawsuits over many years is by the time the facts catch up to the actual lawsuit they're usually a whole lot different than the claims that are made on the front end when you're after a lot of money."
Moss said all he knew about the suit was the media "put it in our face," and added, "I have no right to comment or talk about that."
Sprint Cup team co-owner Ray Evernham, however, said the Grant lawsuit will benefit NASCAR however it is resolved.
"It may well be a good thing," he said, "because it's either going to tell the truth that there is no problem here or if there is a problem, it's going to fix it. To me, it's time to stop all the rumors and the wondering. It will be public knowledge. We'll know that it's true or not true. Either way it'll get fixed."
Evernham said he has not personally sensed any institutional racism within the sport, but couldn't vouch for the acts of individuals. Grant, an African-American woman, claims racial and sexual discrimination and sexual harassment against her was not punished, and when she brought it to NASCAR's attention, she was fired in October.
"It's time to make sure that NASCAR is what I believe it (to be)," Evernham said. "I do believe NASCAR is open to all people. (But) I can't speak for everyone that works in NASCAR just like I can't speak for everybody that works for me."
Moss says he believes so, too. He thinks his self-described business acumen and the money earned from 11 NFL seasons will be enough to give his truck team — with Willie Allen driving the No. 81 truck, matching Moss' uniform number — a chance beginning tonight at Kentucky Speedway.
Race, he said, will not be an impediment. Neither will assuming the role of possibly being NASCAR's minority face, if he's asked or not.
"It's not a role to play. It's just being real," he said. "If that's the cards or the hand that's presented to me, fine, but I'm not really jumping into NASCAR because of the color of my skin. I'm jumping in NASCAR because of the love and the passion I have to win."