Richard Lapchick had just moved to Central Florida in 1997 when he got a call from Brian France. He wanted to get together to chat.
"My goal is to make NASCAR look like America," France told Lapchick when they met.
It was a perfect fit: France was in line to take over the reins of NASCAR from his father, Bill France Jr. Lapchick was the nation's leading voice on diversity in sports.
Fast-forward to the here and now: Lapchick's organization has done more diversity training with NASCAR than with any other sports groups, including NBA and NFL teams and colleges. At one point, NASCAR hit a stretch of five consecutive years of diversity training with every employee.
This context is necessary as NASCAR and Lapchick are back in business, this time for some one-on-one training.
Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida, will work directly with suspended Nationwide driver Jeremy Clements before Clements is allowed back on the track.
Clements is under indefinite suspension for making what NASCAR officials called an ''intolerable and insensitive remark'' during the course of an interview before last weekend's Nationwide race at Daytona international Speedway. He used the n-word in a casual conversation with an MTV blogger in the garage area.
Some observers have screamed that NASCAR has overreacted and overstepped its bounds. That would not be me. All these hours of diversity training don't mean a thing if there aren't consequences for anyone who crosses the line.
"NASCAR adopted a zero-tolerance policy," Lapchick said. "What he said was inappropriate and wrong but you have to have that chance for redemption. I'm a strong believer in that."
Lapchick will spend an hour with Clements one-on-one on March 13. Clements will then work with other members of Lapchick's team for three or four hours.
"It will be an open and frank discussion," Lapchick said. "We don't try to be accusatory. We try to open up a person to seeing things differently."
Clements, 28, certainly seems up to that challenge. He has been apologetic and contrite.
''It's really unfortunate that he chose to make that decision at that time to use that language,'' Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after the incident was publicized. "'I don't like it and there's no room for that in my life. It's just unfortunate that had to happen to him. I hope he can get that sorted out. It just looks bad on the sport. One person's mistake looks bad on a lot of people and looks bad on the sport."
In comes Lapchick, who noted that NASCAR has gone out of its way not to seek publicity for its diversity-training efforts.
"It's a tribute to their sincerity," Lapchick said. "I think that the most important thing that an organization can do other than changing the numbers is changing the culture, but one can't go without the other."
NASCAR is working with officials at Daytona International Speedway to address the multi-car accident that track officials said injured 28 fans at the speedway the day before the Daytona 500.
The accident, which happened near the finish on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300, sent wreckage past a safety fence and into the grandstand as Kyle Larson's car shattered into pieces.
"The 32 car and the parts have obviously been secured by NASCAR," senior vice president Steve O'Donnell said. "Unlike other incidents where just a car and a driver was involved, and we immediately bring that car back to the R&D center, in that case that car remained in Daytona. The purpose of that was to allow the folks from Daytona and their experts to take a look at the car, see what if anything they could glean from that investigation and apply that to their initial thoughts looking at the fencing."