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2 NASCAR workers fired for racial prank

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Witnesses say one approached a black colleague wearing a Klan-like sheet.

Two NASCAR Winston Cup team members were put on indefinite suspension by the sanctioning body and subsequently fired from their jobs as motorcoach drivers for Derrike Cope and Terry Labonte because of a racially insensitive prank they played on a black crew member of Jeremy Mayfield's team.

Witnesses characterized the July 8 episode at the New Hampshire International Speedway as a joke by two white motorcoach drivers that went too far. One of them wore a sheet over his head like a member of the Ku Klux Klan and confronted a black colleague.

"It just needs to be understood that there is a line that cannot be crossed, joking or otherwise," said Kevin Triplett, NASCAR's director of operations.

Since the two motorcoach drivers were not employed by NASCAR, the sanctioning body could only suspend their licenses, which is the most severe punishment within its power. That means the two men cannot enter any area of a track over which NASCAR has jurisdiction.

NASCAR did not announce the suspensions until its investigation was complete.

Labonte and Cope said the two motorcoach drivers had confronted a coachman for another NASCAR driver, Jeremy Mayfield.

Reportedly, Cope's driver was identified as Mike "Grumpy" Culberson, and Labonte's as Ray Labbe. Spokesmen for the teams said neither former coachman planned any comment.

Mayfield's coachman, David Scott, also would not comment, according to a team spokesman.

"Behavior like this simply cannot be tolerated," Cope said in a statement. "This was an example of grievous behavior that I do not condone."

The 1990 Daytona 500 champion called it "an ignorant act" that left him no recourse but dismissal.

"These actions are deplorable and will not be tolerated," said Labonte, a two-time Winston Cup champion. "When this situation was brought to my attention, the employee was released immediately."

Coach drivers are employed by most of the circuit's top racers who stay at the tracks during events.

Auto racing is a predominantly white sport, and NASCAR's top division has had just one full-time black driver in its history.

Aware of that image, NASCAR has been working to create minority interest. Former basketball great Julius Erving and former football star Joe Washington have formed a team, while former Olympic champion Jackie Joyner Kersee recently announced she is planning to be part of a new team.

The only black driver to reach NASCAR's top level was Wendell Scott, who got his only victory in 1963. His son, Franklin, criticized the sport during his father's posthumous induction earlier this year into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

One driver who has spoken out about the racial makeup of auto racing is Frank Kimmel, reigning champion of the second-tier ARCA racing circuit, which is not affiliated with NASCAR. He has had some black crew members who have talked about the difficulty of being minorities in auto racing.

"We don't like to admit it, but it is a redneck sport," Kimmel said.

SPRINT CARS JOIN NASCAR: One of the top promoters on NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit is expanding again, this time to bring sprint-car racing to several of its properties.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. unveiled plans to hold World of Outlaws races at three of its Winston Cup venues next year, with a fourth track possible in the future.

The multiyear agreement calls for the races to be televised by The Nashville Network and to be run as support events on weekends when the Winston Cup series is at the tracks.

SMI is building dirt tracks at its flagship property, Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte, and at Texas Motor Speedway near Dallas.

CARPENTIER OUT: Patrick Carpentier will miss this weekend's CART race after tests revealed he sustained a small vertebra fracture in Sunday's crash in the Grand Prix of Detroit.