GLADEVILLE – Erik Moses isn’t simply observing Black History Month.
He’s making black history.
When Moses was named president of Nashville Superspeedway on Aug. 22, he became the first black track president in NASCAR history.
“I realize it is important and noteworthy,” Moses said yesterday as he discussed his ground-breaking role in the sport, “especially now, as we are called to reflect on Black History Month.”
He reiterated his response when his appointment was announced:
“I got hired to do a job, not because of what color I am. Any time you have the distinction of becoming the first at anything professionally, it is a humbling honor. That said, I’m not naive enough to believe that I’m the first person of color qualified to run a NASCAR track. I am thankful to Dover for their confidence in my ability.”
Dover International Speedway president/CEO Mike Tatoian, who chose Moses to oversee the revival of the formerly-idle Superspeedway, yesterday echoed that sentiment:
“Making history wasn’t our goal with Erik’s hire. It was all about finding the right person for the position. The entire Middle Tennessee community will benefit from Erik’s abilities and leadership.”
After six months on the job, has Moses had any negative experiences?
“Zero,” he says. “Everybody I’ve met couldn’t have been more welcoming.”
Moses, a Washington attorney who came to the Superspeedway after serving as president of the XFL’s DC Defenders pro football team, grew up in Greensboro, N.C. where he said he was “exposed to the NASCAR culture.”
He liked most of what he saw, except for the Confederate flags that were common sights at many racetracks.
“Like most people of color, the Confederate flag turned me off,” he says. “It made me question if I would be welcome at a track or sitting in a bar watching a race. It was stop sign for a lot of people.”
Moses discussed the situation with NASCAR president Steve Phelps, who last season banned the Confederate flag from all tracks.
“I was proud of the stand he and NASCAR took,” Moses says. “He is sincere when he says he wants to make our sport more inclusive.”
Moses’ Superspeedway presidency is part of several significant minority advancements in NASCAR. That includes this season’s entry of Michael Jordan as co-owner of a Cup Series team for which Bubba Wallace drives. Wallace, the only black driver in the premier series, was at the forefront of last year’s effort to remove the Confederate flag from NASCAR tracks.
“I admire Bubba for his stand,” Moses says. “And it’s impossible to overstate the impact of Michael Jordan’s presence in the sport. He is one of the most popular and admired personalities in the country, and he will attract a lot of positive attention. If Bubba can break through and start winning, he will be to NASCAR what Tiger Woods was to pro golf and the Serena sisters were to tennis.”
Brad Daugherty, another popular retired black NBA star, has been in NASCAR for years as a team co-owner, and a few other black drivers prior to Wallace have raced – with little success – going back to Wendell Scott in the 1950s and 1960s.
Scott became the only black driver to win a top-level NASCAR race when he finished first in a race at Jacksonville, Fla., in 1964. The track promoter said the winner’s trophy had been “misplaced” and would be mailed to Scott later. It is widely believed he refused to allow a scantily-clad white “trophy girl” to present the trophy to a black driver on stage.
Scott endured smattering harassment from some fans, but was respected and accepted by his fellow drivers. In 2015 he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Moses has studied the saga of Wendell Scott, and will participate in an upcoming panel discussion about it.
“In some ways I’m benefiting from Wendell’s legacy,” Moses says.
Last October while attending a race in Charlotte, Moses visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which includes a Wendell Scott exhibit. A black family was touring the HOF at the same time, and one of the youngsters came over and asked if he was Erik Moses.
“I was completely surprised,” Moses said. “He said he was a big NASCAR fan, and he recognized me from Instragram photos. He asked if he could pose with me for a snapshot.
Moses adds, “I don’t tell that story to boast, I tell it to show how much I appreciate the position I’m in. Maybe I can inspire that young man – and many more like him -- to take advantage of the new opportunities in our sport. That’s my hope.”