Grant: NASCAR needs to diversify (cont.)
"What I expected when I went to work for this multibillion dollar company was a professional work environment, where the focus was on the cars, the drivers, and the competition; not of why is my hair different today than it was yesterday, or why I don't get sunburn or why the palms of my hands are white? That's not what I expected. I expected professionalism, and I expected people to rise to that type of professionalism.
Let's move to October 2007, your last weekend in NASCAR. What happened?
"Well, I never had an exit interview. I was called into the hauler. When I was called in, [human relations representative] Star George was already on the phone, and the first thing Joe Balash says to me is, 'We're terminating your employment.' I asked why, and [Star George] said, 'Due to poor work performance.' She was on speaker phone and she said we warned you that if you opened your mouth again and you stepped out of line, that you would be terminated, and you are being terminated... That was my exit interview, and that took less than five minutes. I didn't get any information about COBRA or anything like that until I called the next couple of days to find out what I do from there."
(A NASCAR spokesman firmly denied Grant's version of the story, stating that, "Was her dismissal in retaliation? I can tell you that the answer is no. It's 100% false.")
Did you say anything to all the officials on headsets after you got fired?
"On my way out of the track, I stopped to say goodbye to someone from Racing Radios. While I was there, I plugged in a radio and I said, 'Mo to the Busch garage. I was just fired. I'm out. I was just fired by Joe Balash.' Because I knew they would make it all mystical at the end of the evening, make it all mysterious, so I just wanted to put it out on the table, and not say that I quit or whatever they were going to say. I just wanted to be the one to put the message out there."
Did you mention on the headsets that you loved everybody (as one NASCAR official claims he heard)?
"I don't remember. I could have said that. I'm talking to the whole entire garage -- where I went on headsets -- and there were people that I did like. I was talking to the people that would miss me. The crews and the crew chiefs that would listen in. The PR people that were radioed up on the officials' channel. Anybody could be up on the officials' channel. Everybody, the fans in the stands could be on the officials' channel. It was not zoned specifically for officials, that was the garage channel."
What was your worst fear?
"That I would get hurt. Heading out every week felt like sometimes, especially on the long road trips with one official, our conversation always went back to the KKK with him. When we were in the car riding around with him, it was like KKK this or black this -- just really picking my brain about being black or the black experience.
"I used to have thoughts of, 'Is this official going to pull over -- you know, we used to have to travel from Atlanta to Tennessee through the Blue Mountains, through these remote places, and I felt like sometimes -- am I going to get a detour that I'm not aware of that's about to happen?' It's a scary feeling ... because it's real remote, and I was thinking, 'Is it going to happen now? Is it going to happen now?' I was real nervous a lot about that.
"There was one time in Bristol where a crew member came up to my ear and he said, 'You're going to love getting kidnapped.' And what do you say to that? It was such a weird, freaky thing to say where I started thinking, Is that a flirtation or is that a threat? So it was a lot of scary moments for me, where I felt like I'm going to end up missing. ... I remember sitting with some crew members in Kentucky in a restaurant in the hotel, and someone just started talking about his fishing trip with the real David Duke [of the KKK]. So my fear was getting hurt."
Having been on both sides of it -- Irwindale and the culture you claimed to have been in during your time in the Nationwide Series -- how do you think changes can be made?
"They need to stop hiring their ignorant brothers, cousins and uncles of theirs, and start hiring qualified, educated people to start running their multibillion dollar business. Stop giving 'Uncle Frank' a hookup knowing that he's ignorant."
Do you think that some type of diversity training could help fix it?
"That's not going to work. You can't sit people in a room and say, 'Now you're going to change.' You can't blow up a black blowup doll and say, 'Look at their eyes. This is their nose.' That's stupid. You need to hire people who are well-rounded, educated, capable of stepping into any type of environment and not making themselves look like a fool."
Obviously, this trial could be a long, painful experience. Are you prepared?
"I was prepared for the trials and tribulations the first day I stepped on the track at Irwindale, the first day I went to school at the automotive training center, when I was going to be the only woman amongst a whole bunch of men. So I've been preparing for this my whole life. I'm a trendsetter. So I'm not going to be afraid. I'm not going to back down, I'm not going to cower away from this. So they can bring it."
Where do you see this sport in five years?
"After me coming forward, their backs are against the wall and they're going to have to diversify their sport, whether they want to or not. If they're going to continue to approach the black community and other communities in the nation with advertisements and trying to lure them in, they're going to have to make it more open for black drivers, black crews -- I just think that in five years, there has to be more black drivers, more black crew members, more black crew chiefs, more women."