October 30, 2013

Nature, Nurture, and NASCAR

From my new column in Taki's Magazine:
There was a fair amount of national media excitement this weekend over the news that Darrell Wallace, Jr. had won a NASCAR race. 
As a Southern Californian, my attention span for auto racing has shrunk to the four seconds it takes a top fuel dragster at the Pomona Winternationals to roar 1,000 feet in a straight line. So I haven’t really been following as closely as I should all the drivers down in Dixie going around and around. And around. (And, I suspect, around some more.) 
I’ve been especially lax about keeping up with NASCAR’s minor-league truck-racing circuit on which the 20-year-old Wallace triumphed Saturday. 
Nevertheless, his victory in Martinsville, Virginia was deemed major-league news because, you see, Wallace is a product of NASCAR’s nine-year-old Drive for Diversity program. He’s the first African American to win even this kind of third-tier NASCAR event since 1963. ...
The news should raise the question: If it takes so much organized effort in the 21st century for a black to win a small-time NASCAR contest, how in the world did Wendell Scott triumph in a Grand National race a half-century ago, back before diversity awareness?

It’s a terrific story ...

Read the whole thing there.

33 comments:

agnostic said...

"The Ballad of Wendell Scott" by Mojo Nixon and Skip Roper (1986):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx1TmQbXvN4

Yee haw!

Anonymous said...

Despite what might be taken as common knowledge, a lot of Southern racing fans were supporters of Wendell Scott. Many fans and drivers saw him as a hard worker who took crap and never complained, something he had in common with them.

Diversity before diversity.

Dahinda said...

The best description of watching NASCAR that I ever heard was that it was like sitting on a freeway overpass and watching the traffic go by for an hour and a half.

Mr. Rational said...

This guy is only Black if you follow the one-drop rule.  He looks no more than 1/8 to me.

Camlost said...

The best name for a black race driver:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_T._Ribbs

Paul Mendez said...

As someone who took a (very) brief stab at SCCA Showroom Stock racing in the 1980's, I can attest that auto racing is a surprisingly cerebral sport.

Lap after lap, you're adjusting your line by inches, trying to get on the brakes a little later and back on the gas a little earlier. It's about patience and concentration more than reflexes or physical stamina (Not to say that by the time one gets to NASCAR levels of performance, superhuman reflexes and physical stamina aren't essential, too.)

Today, I shoot High Power matches. Again, it's a cerebral sport that rewards patience and concentration. And you see essentially no blacks at Camp Perry.

Mr. Anon said...

If there is any "sport" stupider and more boring than auto-racing, I can't imagine it.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it fairly straightforward? Back in the day, blacks were encouraged,, in a general sense, to "act white" and participate in mainstream white American culture, or a version of it. And there seemed to be some active desire among blacks to do so. Consequently, a few trickled through into unexpected fields. Now there is no such encouragement - if anything, there is the opposite - and certainly no such desire, so blacks and whites inexorably drift apart, culturally. Let it happen, I say.

Anonymous said...

Steve. in your Taki's Mag article you mentioned that during late 60's you paid quite a bit of attention to cars, various car races, etc.

Did you also happen to watch during that time a very influential show regarding racing called Speed Racer?

Speed Racer was such an iconic show for kids that it has influenced many future NASCAR drivers (who have publicly stated that it was primarily that show in particular that convinced them to follow their dream of one day becoming a professional racer).

But Speed Racer was quite the cool show in its day.

Anonymous said...

Today fielding a winning car, and racing/maintenance team is very expensive. Nascar just barely maintains the premise that you are watching ordinary cars you might buy driving around the track, as opposed to Formula 1 where the whole point is that they are driving airplanes.

rightsaidfred said...

Kind of interesting that there has been almost no Black women in country music. I guess no one has complained.

TontoBubbaGoldstein said...

I was (probably one of many) that sent you the ESPN link.

Great article!

With a name like Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr, he just has to be a pretty good wheelman.

Anonymous said...

Wallace is Black? You should write an artcle on Titanic. A born gambler and 'bad boy' like father like son.

He seems like a natural for a biopic, James Garner and Lou Gossett in their primes as Titanic and the ringer.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/01/automobiles/01red.html?pagewanted=all&position=&_r=0

"Nascar has an American-made-only requirement for cars and a variety of other rules that discourage foreign makers from competing," said Steve Sailer, a conservative journalist who has analyzed the red-blue divide.

Wait, the New York Times quoted you? In 2005? Without describing you as a horrible person?

Is John Tierney some kind of closet thought criminal?

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/01/automobiles/01red.html?pagewanted=all&position=&_r=0

By the way, that NYT article is a good example of how non-recognition of demographic reality muddles clear statistical thought.

The article alludes to, but never directly addresses, the highly multi-modal nature of blue state Democrats. That Democrats would favor both Volvos and Pontiacs would be not at all inconsistent or surprising to someone who understands the trendy-white/poor-minority coalition of the modern left. The GOP base, in comparison, exists along more of a white working-class/bourgeois continuum.

I guess disaggregating the left would reveal it to be an awkward alliance, and that in turn would raise the question: against whom is this coalition directed? Which, of course, is a direction the NYT doesn't want to go in.

Anthony said...

Related to driving: When I look at driving *skill* on the road (not driving *manners*), blacks seem to be about as good as whites, and better than Asians or Hispanics. Is this just because so many Asians and Hispanics in California are immigrants who didn't grow up with cars, or does black ability to achieve "flow" compensate for lower IQ? Are Asians enough worse at "flow" than whites to make up the difference in IQ?

Power Child said...

Seems to me a big part of what would make NASCAR enjoyable would be experiencing the extravaganza of the race itself, in person. I'm not talking about sitting in the bleachers watching streaks of color fly by, I'm talking about walking around and seeing people camped out, tailgating, seeing all the little side-shows and informal markets and mechanics shops that get set up around the thing.

In other words, spend a lot of time fully immersed in a sea of blue-collar white people.

Not somewhere I'd expect a lot of black people to go willingly.

candid_observer said...

I haven't seen you referencing it, but there is an interesting study by an economist at Harvard that comes out with a surprising finding regarding stereotype threat and a fairly high stakes test, the NAEP.

Turns out that some of the questions asked of the students prior to the test (asked of some, but not all students) can be understood as priming for "stereotype threat". And the number of students asked these questions is over 100,000 as I recollect.

This provides a good setting to test for stereotype threat on a real test with some real stakes.

There was no evidence of stereotype threat, even given the power of such a number of cases to detect it if there were. Now that I don't find particularly surprising.

But what is rather surprising to me is that it did find a quite modest (.05 SD), but statistically significant trend in the opposite direction. Namely, female students did somewhat better on average when primed with the negative stereotype of girls' abilities at math.

The author calls this effect "stereotype reactant". That is, girls may have an extra bit of motivation to do well when they want to "prove wrong" the stereotype.

One wonders if that doesn't play some role in the achievements of minorities who have been genuinely discriminated against in the past. It may be that this discrimination and open negative stereotype in fact serves as a spur for greater achievement.

Here's the paper:

http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~twei/papers/sthreat_naep.pdf

Dahlia said...

Steve,
Not a Nascar or sports fan myself, but come from a family of them (Mom's side)...

I don't know if I'd go as far as saying it is a Northern European white thing as much as a Southern thing, but could be wrong and things may have changed.
My father's side of the family is not "Southern" at all and as much as the guys were huge sports participants, they were not Nascar or driving people, despite it being all around them. They did paintball, basketball, baseball, and biking when they got older, but never anything to do with racing cars. A couple were of average intelligence, some better, one even a genius, but they were similar in sports likes (Most of them are Viking-Americans due to their Swedish heritage, but far more outrageous, aggressive, and louder than even Southerners).

I think you're mostly right about the appeal...

When I spent a week in NYC with my brother and aunt and uncle, we went to the Carnegie Deli and sat with a couple from New Jersey who were probably Italian. We got to talking about Southern and Northern differences and we really hit it off with this couple and stayed for longer than an hour, I think (probably a faux pas given the crowding).
Anyway, they were mystified by Nascar and the woman asked about watching something where there might be a wreck and my brother and uncle kind of chuckled a little bit and my brother sheepishly replied that the potential and real wrecks were most of the fun. They raised their eyebrows and he explained that while you hoped nobody got hurt, and it was rarely dangerous, the wrecks served to shake up the race.

(In return and later on, the man bared his soul and told us about how he had gotten himself into trouble with the mob over sports gambling and his trials cleaning up his act. Not something you hear about in Dixie!)

Cail Corishev said...

Wait, the New York Times quoted you? In 2005? Without describing you as a horrible person?

Special circumstances. It's not like anyone at the Times wanted to go amongst Nascar people himself.

Anonymous said...

OT: Watch the video The New York Times didn't Want You to See

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6yYiWqmeCM

"Max) Blumenthal explained how The New York Times commissioned the 11-minute video, but after the paper's editors saw it, refused to publish it: "I was asked to submit something by The New York Times op docs, a new section on the website that published short video documentaries. I am known for short video documentaries about the right wing in the US, and extremism in Israel. They solicited a video from me, and when I didn't produce it in time, they called me for it, saying they wanted it. So I sent them a video I produced with my colleague, David Sheen, an Israeli journalist who is covering the situation of non-Jewish Africans in Israel more extensively than any journalist in the world. We put together some shocking footage of pogroms against African communities in Tel Aviv, and interviews with human rights activists. I thought it was a well-done documentary about a situation very few Americans were familiar with. We included analysis. We tailored it to their style, and of course it was rejected without an explanation after being solicited. I sent it to some other major websites and they have not even responded to me, when they had often solicited articles from me in the past. Blumenthal, author of the bestselling and widely promoted 2009 book Republican Gomorrah, also spoke about the difficulty he has had getting any mainstream media attention for his new book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. Just like this video, Blumenthal's new book offers an unflinching look at the racist reality of Israel that America's establishment media simply does not have the guts to confront."

Dahlia said...

OT, but wasn't Ron Unz's debate on immigration tonight? I was out and about and didn't see it. Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16034210-the-cooked-seed

The most Sailersphere-themed book I read in a long time: immigration, culture clash, Chinese mind-set, blacks, government workers, privileged 'creative' liberals, classrooms filled with morons, etc.

Her comments about the underclass ring very true.

It is also one of the funniest books ever written.

But she doesn't get Beavis and Butthead. It's one of the best things for children.

PS. I appreciate the comment about the 'three hour film about a woman peeling potatoes' she had to sit through in art school.
I think I know what she means. It's actually three and half hours.

Anonymous said...

"The GOP base, in comparison, exists along more of a white working-class/bourgeois continuum."

It used to, anyway. For some reason, the GOP decided it didn't need the (non-confederate) white working class any more.

Anonymous said...

Related to driving: When I look at driving *skill* on the road (not driving *manners*), blacks seem to be about as good as whites, and better than Asians or Hispanics. Is this just because so many Asians and Hispanics in California are immigrants who didn't grow up with cars, or does black ability to achieve "flow" compensate for lower IQ? Are Asians enough worse at "flow" than whites to make up the difference in IQ?
Maybe, blacks have a better spacial Iq, maybe they tend to be low on verbal IQ.
10/30/13, 1:43 PM

Anonymous said...

Well, years ago California should have lots of the other type of car racing, Gardenia Ca had a track next to the Drive in Movie Theater.

Anonymous said...

he GOP base, in comparison, exists along more of a white working-class/bourgeois continuum.

How so, in Orange County the GOP types liked fancy expensive cars rather than working class cars. South County which has the most whites and most Republicans drives Lexius, Mercades Bentz, and some even Prius. Maybe, the SUV's are working class but they are not cheap in south Orange County. Oh well, destroying your myth that Republicans are all working class in California.

Alfa158 said...

Willy Ribbs was probably the most talented black driver of all time (Lewis Hamilton being half white) but he was his own worst enemy due to bad advice and attitude. He had clinched the Formula Atlantic championship one year, which was a stepping stone to big-time Formula 1 or Indy. The year he clinched it he was running in the preliminary race at the Long Beach Formula 1 race and one of the leading F1 teams scheduled a lunch meeting with him to discuss giving him a shot at a ride. According to the car magazines, Willy or his new found cadre of briefcase toting flunkies decided that with all the excitement and publicity he was garnering in motor racing, the best career approach was to build up his image as an Apollo Creed/Muhammed Ali type golden god. He deliberately showed up an hour late for the lunch to make a point about who needed who, and the F1 team managers had left. Motor racing used to have no tolerance for that sort of self-indulgence. Ribbs did well in TransAm and eventually got a shot at Indy but he never got that kind of opportunity again.

rob said...

Related to driving: When I look at driving *skill* on the road (not driving *manners*), blacks seem to be about as good as whites, and better than Asians or Hispanics...or does black ability to achieve "flow" compensate for lower IQ? Are Asians enough worse at "flow" than whites to make up the difference in IQ?

anon said...
Maybe, blacks have a better spacial Iq, maybe they tend to be low on verbal IQ.


Definitely not spatial > verbal. Blacks usually underperform on visuospatial, but maybe they make up for that on other performance IQ subtests. Asians seem like much worse drivers, and I'm tempted to chalk it up to something like situational awareness. Maybe there's another visuospatial 'intelligence' that's more related to seeing things move in 3d in time than it is to rotating 3d objects.

Nerd visuospatial ability: how can I chip this piece of flint to make the most spearheads? Can be slow and choppy, has to ignore most of the surroundings.

Hunter/jock visuospatial ability: where do I throw this spear to hit the mammoth given his current location, etc? Not much time, has to work with body position, needs to take surroundings into consideration.

Anonymous said...


"Related to driving: When I look at driving *skill* on the road (not driving *manners*), blacks seem to be about as good as whites, and better than Asians or Hispanics?"

Don't know about that. The main thing I notice about black drivers is that they drive 20 miles under the speed limit on the interstate...

Anonymous said...

Lewis Hamilton is a F1 champion and one of the highest paid drivers on the planet...yes, he was trained from a young age at McLaren, but he still possess top notch skill and is a brilliant driver.

And there are a lot less blacks in Europe and F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport.

So not sure why this is newsworthy at all?

Anonymous said...

"The main thing I notice about black drivers is that they drive 20 miles under the speed limit on the interstate..."

Never particularly noticed this of blacks; it's the sort of thing anyone often does when driving a car with >130K miles or so on it and a spotty maintenance record...

Anthony said...

The main thing I notice about black drivers is that they drive 20 miles under the speed limit on the interstate...

When I see it, and it's not because the car just can't go that fast, it's a manners issue. There's a type of older black women who are going to sit in the left lane, and drive the speed limit, dammit, and so are you, dammit. I like to think that these are the more officious sorts of government clerk when they're not behind the wheel.

I think there might be something to Rob's idea. Being able to catch a ball that's coming from behind you while you're dodging other people is something that black guys seem to be pretty good at, at the top end.