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African American ownership in sports has been a long sought after goal. Many have tried and only a few have succeeded in the multi-billion-dollar arenas of professional football, baseball and basketball. Yet, look a little lower on the radar screen and you’ll see another sport has attracted the attention of a pair of former athletes in an arena not generally frequented by African Americans — professional auto racing. Washington Erving Motorsports, which recently completed its second year on the NASCAR circuit, is being touted as NASCAR’s first minority-owned race team in over 25 years.
Led by former NFL star Joe Washington and former NBA legend Julius Erving, Washington Erving Motorsports is now prepping for its third season on the 2000 NASCAR Busch series’ Grand National Division circuit, with Dr. Pepper as its primary sponsor.
Washington, a former all-pro running back with the Washington Redskins, the San Diego Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons, who retired in 1986, says motor sports first caught his eye while he was looking at marketing opportunities for Pepsi-Cola, which his marketing/consulting company then represented. “I saw my first race and I got such a charge out of it,” says Washington. “I saw an opportunity.”
It wasn’t his first stab at professional sports ownership. Washington was initially part of an effort to bring an expansion football team to the Baltimore area several years ago. When that fell through, he began looking for other, less costly investment options. “It takes a significant amount of money to get in on the ground floor of an NFL team or any other ‘major’ sport. And even then the issue still has to be voted on. With NASCAR you just have to be able to afford to get a car on the track.”
But participation in car racing doesn’t come cheap. Fields Jackson, part-owner of the company, says the engine alone for one of his fleet of seven race cars runs about $40,000 to $50,000. His tire bill runs approximately $9,000 per race for a 32-race season. He estimates the total cost for each of his race cars runs approximately $100,000.
So far the investment seems to be worth it. In its 1998 rookie year, the race team had a couple of rough outings. They failed to qualify for eight of the 32 races they entered and had nine DNFs (Did Not Finish race). They completed only 43% of the laps run and had instability at the race driver position, going through some 13 different drivers. Total winnings for 1998 were $165,000 and the team finished 38th in the points standings.
In comparison, in 1999 the team had stability at the driver’s spot with one racer all year long. They missed only two out of 32 races and completed 86% of their lap runs. They finished 25th in points and total earnings amounted to $366,195.
In addition to Dr. Pepper, the motor team has Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, among others, as a sponsor, and will be adding Snyder’s of the Hanover Pretzel Company.
“There’s an African American market out there