USGP promoter in trouble for racially insensitive comments

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USGP promoter Tavo Hellmund is having to apologize for racially insensitive comments he made during a mike check.

We’ll get to the comments, and some reaction, but first the Austin race tie-in: Even if this is only an example of Hellmund’s inexperience, it doesn’t bode well for his ongoing spokesperson role for the track. If it is anything more serious, you are going to see a storm of problems for the development. (Probably you’ll see at least some additional opposition no matter what.)

Now… here it is, and I certainly can see how it will offend some people. So, that slight bit of warning.

I’ll let KXAN TV in Austin give you the rundown:

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin Formula 1 promoter Tavo Hellmund is apologizing for a comment he made at the beginning of a television interview Wednesday, September 1.

“While I was preparing for an interview yesterday, I said something I shouldn’t have during a microphone check. Anyone who knows me knows this is not who I am. I’d like to extend a sincere apology to anyone who may have been offended.”

Hellmund, 40, provided the response in reference to an interview with several Austin television news stations; KXAN reporter Josh Hinkle started the interview by asking Hellmund to confirm his name:

TRANSCRIPT:

KXAN Reporter: “Just for the record, go ahead and say your name.”
Tavo Hellmund: “Uh, Kunta Kinte.”
(unknown laughter)
KXAN Reporter: “Just for a mic check.”
News 8 Reporter: “Did you just say that?”
Full Throttle Spokesperson: “No, he didn’t.”
Unknown Reporter or Photographer: “Yes, he did Mr. PR man. We heard it.”
KXAN Reporter: Alright, so what’s this new track like? Can you explain to us the design”

And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you set back your project an uncertain amount of time due to, at best, pure stupidity.

For those who don’t have the background, again KXAN:

Kunta Kinte is the name of the main character of the novel Roots, which was made into a popular TV miniseries in 1977.

“The show revolves around an African name Kunta Kinte who is captured and brought to the United States to be enslaved,” said UT Media historian and Communications assistant professor Jennifer Fuller.

Fuller said the most memorable scene from the series is when Kunta Kinte is whipped repeatedly after being asked his name, and refusing to give the slave name his overseer gave him.

“It is the moment where we can see his spirit. He doesn’t want to be broken. This is his African-ness, right, that’s trying to be torn from him. And it’s a very violent scene as well, of course,” said Fuller.

Hellmund is getting a mix of support and mild rebuke. The state Comptroller (the one who attended the F1 race at Silverstone) released this statement: “Our dealings with him have been very professional. Sounds like an inappropriate attempt at a sense of humor.” And Texas State Senator Kirk Watson, who worked to make the F1 deal happen, released the following: “That kind of comment is offensive and inappropriate, and there is no excuse for it.”

I don’t intend for this to turn into a debate about Hellmund’s comments — we are an F1 site — or whether they are offensive. This isn’t the place for that. But for the track, this could be a turning point, depending on how it plays out. Or it could be a blip. If you have thoughts about what this might do to the track’s prospects, comment away.

I wonder if Bernie Ecclestone or anyone with F1 will issue a statement.

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