As Streif reported yesterday, there is a mindless controversy in NASCAR this weekend over a sponsor pulling out of a race. The drugmaker Lilly is sponsoring a number of cars racing in today’s NASCAR Xfinity road race at Road America raceway. The announcement was this week that Lilly was pulling its sponsorship from driver Conor Daly. The details behind why this happened, and the decisions by the drug maker, defy common sense
The race is one of NASCAR’s select road course races, and commonly a number of drivers from other circuits join the field of regular drivers. Daly, an Indy car driver, is making his NASCAR debut. The privilege of getting a chance to join the major racing circuit is significant and securing sponsorships is a key challenge. To have that backing pulled over a rash decision is ridiculous.
While the race is taking place in Wisconsin, the story actually erupted in Indiana, around the Indianapolis Colts’ training facility. Bob Lamey is a broadcast institution in Indianapolis. The longtime play-by-play announcer has over four decades in broadcasting, 35 of those spent with the Colts. (He also works for the NBA Pacers, and the Indy Racers minor league hockey team.)
Lamey kicked off the week’s asinine corporate activities while making an interview appearance for a local radio station at the Colts’ training camp. Following the interview, when the mics were turned off, the broadcaster began telling a story to an employee about his days covering the Indy 500 from back in the 1980s. He talked about an interview he had with then driver Derek Daly, who raced in The 500 six times. Daly, an Irish driver, was still relatively new to the United States at the time.
In a question about qualifying Daly dropped the dreaded “N-word” into the discussion. As he now explains it, the term in Europe had a different connotation and was not racial in its intent. The problem is that in the retelling last week Bob Lamey repeated the slur. This was overheard by a black employee, and Lamey apologized to all who heard him. The employee later went to the radio station’s HR department to report the incident.
While Lamey is an employee of the Colts their broadcasts are carried by the same station. When it became clear the story was being forwarded Lamey announced his retirement. More ridiculous, following his racing career Derek Daly has been a racing analyst for 30 years, but was fired from his freelancing position by TV station WISH…over the comment made 35 years ago.
Then following these controversies Lilly decided to join in on the overreactions. You would expect better from the company being Indianapolis headquartered as far as looking into the matter and assessing the idiocy of their decision. Instead, the pharmaceutical giant elected to react first and not think at all.
As a result of an unclarified remark made three and a half decades ago one career football broadcaster retires, another veteran race analyst is fired, and a corporation suspends its sponsorship of a young driver who was not even born when the remark was uttered.
In a statement released Friday, Lilly explained this controversy distracted from the company outreach for diabetes treatment. “Unfortunately, the comments that surfaced this week by Derek Daly distract from this focus, so we have made the decision that Lilly Diabetes will no longer run the No. 6 at Road America this weekend.”
As a result of wishing to avoid controversy, the company has actually mired itself deeper into the negative PR spin. The idiotic decision becomes an even bigger embarrassment after considering a personal detail of their former driver.
In part of the statement released Lilly declared: “We remain committed to our mission of supporting people with diabetes.” Those words take on a dark irony when you consider that Conor Daly is diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes.
Their commitment apparently does not involve supporting people with common sense corporate decisions.