Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements on Wednesday was reinstated two weeks after being suspended indefinitely for using a racial slur.
NASCAR suspended Clements for using the “n-word” in a Feb. 23 conversation with MTV blogger Marty Beckerman at Daytona International Speedway.
Clements was informed of his reinstatement after completing a session of racial insensitivity counseling with Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, on Monday.
“We’re pleased that Jeremy has taken these important steps and will return to racing starting this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway,” Steve ODonnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, said Wednesday.
The 28-year-old driver, who runs the No. 51 for his family-owned team in Spartanburg, S.C., will be back on the track for Saturday’s race after missing the past two events at Phoenix and Las Vegas.
“It’s been a tough time for me for sure,” Clements told ESPN.com. “I learned a lot from that class. I learned a lot about different words, stuff I didn’t know before.
“I learned a great deal about that and myself, how it affects everything that has to do with family, friends, church, sponsors and the team. I’m excited to be back in the race car. Nothing like that will ever happen again.”
Clements said he used the slur as an adjective during a conversation with Beckerman and in the presence of a NASCAR public relations person who was looking for directions to Johanna Long’s hauler.
He has since apologized to Beckerman, who was at DIS writing a piece for his Guy Code blog, the PR person and others he may have offended by his remark.
He said the comment was not meant to be racist in any way, that it was just a word some use in the racing community he grew up around to describe a driver “roughing somebody up.”
Beckerman confirmed in an MTV news article that Clements didn’t direct the word at another driver, that he was illustrating that “if you drive roughly, you’ll be treated roughly.”
While not making excuses, Clements acknowledged it is a word he hears in rap music and movies all the time.
“There is no use for that word in our sport,” Clements said. NASCAR in a statement referred to the comment as an “intolerable and insensitive remark” that violated the sanctioning body’s Code of Conduct for actions detrimental to stock car racing.
The rulebook prohibits any “public statement” that criticizes, ridicules or otherwise disparages another person based on race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age or handicapping condition.
The comment came at a time when the sport was celebrating the first woman, Danica Patrick, winning the pole for the Daytona 500 and the arrival of black driver Darrell Wallace Jr. into a full-time Truck Series ride.
“We want as many different fans as we can get,” Clements said. “We want a diverse set of fans and people to be in the sport. I definitely don’t want people turned away from [NASCAR] just because that word was used one time.
“I definitely wasn’t very smart about it.”
Lapchick’s class cost Clements $2,400, plus travel expenses. One of his sponsors wanted to pay the fee, but Clements said he wouldn’t accept it.
Clements said the slur cost him one sponsor for one race. He said two more are waiting to see if there is any further backlash before committing.
“It just affects a lot of stuff, losing the sponsor, not being in the car,” he said. “We’re going to get through it. It seems to be the end of it. I just want to get back to racing and get over this.”
While he has picked up a lot of new followers on Twitter and Facebook since the suspension was announced, Clements said this is not what he or his underfunded race team wants to be remembered for.
“I don’t want to be associated with it one bit,” he said. “It’s embarrassing. I’ve been to schools [to speak] where there’s mostly African-American kids and talked to them and tried to get them to come to races. To think if they saw this … it’s embarrassing to me.
“I want to be the role model I was trying to shoot for before all this.”
Clements also doesn’t want to be forced to sit again. The only other time his racing career was sidetracked came in 2004, when a torque arm broke in his ARCA car, causing the drive shaft to pull out of the transmission and fly into the cockpit. The drive shaft shattered Clements’ right hand, resulting in 12 operations that sidelined him for a year.
“I think everyone deserves a second chance,” Clements said. “You’ve got to look at a person’s record. I’ve never been in trouble with NASCAR at all before this. It’s a shame it had to end like that with the suspension, but I would like to think it won’t hurt my future.
“I want to make the best of it I can and have people say he did the right thing, he did the best job with what he had and move on.”