Apr 20, 2012, 6:30 PM EST
Michael Rodriguez was 15 when he was invited to try out for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity, a diversity program aimed at providing opportunities for minority drivers. That was in 2005. But Rodriguez, now 22, says he was denied a spot in the program because was “too Caucasian”, and he’s suing NASCAR and Access Communications, which operated the program.
Rodriguez states in his claim that he believes NASCAR denied him a spot in the program because of his complexion. Rodriguez says he is of Puerto Rican and Spanish descent, and says that he is blue-eyed and fair-skinned.
For their part, NASCAR doesn’t deny the discrimination. But its attorney does say it did nothing illegal.
“We would submit to (the court) it would be legitimate for Access to make its decision on affirmative action criteria,” said Jeff Pasek, an attorney representing NASCAR.
Access attorney Dhamian Blue followed later, reiterating what Access argued in its summary judgment brief, saying that the color of a driver’s skin can be proper criteria for an affirmative action plan.
“NASCAR recognized their need to change the face of NASCAR,” Blue said. “The ultimate desire was to pan across pit road and see minority drivers and minority crewmen. … When you talk about changing the face of NASCAR, color weighs very heavily.”
NASCAR is no longer directly involved in the diversity program: its half was taken over by former Dale Earnhardt Inc. executive Max Siegel in 2009.
Rodriguez was invited to compete in the 2005 combine at age 15 with a resume that included two state karting championships. He also was the youngest driver ever to win a Super Late Model event at Mountain Speedway, a one-third mile asphalt track in St. John’s, Pa.
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