DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Give NASCAR credit for this, the racing circuit continues to attempt to diversify its fan base.
This year, in a continued effort to show racing fast cars should appeal to more than just its traditionally white fan base, the circuit brought in African American celebrities such as recording artists 50 Cent and T.I. and future Hall of Fame NFL star Ray Lewis to the Daytona 500. It's a long way from the traditional slate of country singers.
Yet even with the best intentions, the intended message may not be getting out.
"Damn, I don't see no black people lol," 50 Cent tweeted Sunday after arriving at Daytona International Speedway.
That was about the last message NASCAR was hoping to have hammered home to 50 Cent's nearly eight million followers.
The truth is the truth though. NASCAR itself has taken numerous steps through the years in attempt to open up its fan base – if for no other reason than to tap into a potential lucrative market.
It sets up outreach programs in cities near tracks, trying to take the cars to areas with more diverse populations. It sponsors a minority driver program. It has officially condemned the confederate flag, even barring the "General Lee" of Dukes and Hazards fame from appearing at a race in Phoenix last year.
NASCAR's long-term belief is that people from all walks of life, races, countries and socio-economic backgrounds love cars.
Indeed on Sunday, Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin and T.I. spoke at length about their shared love of Porsches and debated whose was faster.
At the turnstile however, it remains a struggle.
Flapping confederate flags still dot the sky across the expansive infield here at Daytona, for instance, and even if the intention for fans flying it isn't racially based – heritage not hate is the common defense – it remains an unwelcoming sign for many people of all races.
So in the end, 50 Cent and others can come to Daytona, taking traditional roles of, in the case of Lewis, waving the green flag to start the race – "Brad [Keselowski] texted me on the way in, 'The one rule is don't drop the flag,' " Lewis joked.
But when they look around, the reality remains the same as it has for years.
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