Tag Archives: NASCAR

An Open Letter to NASCAR Leadership

anthem

Dear Messrs France, Helton, Dewar, and O’Donnell

When I was 14 years old and was first introduced to NASCAR in 1992, I became an instant fan.  In the 25 years since, I have watched at least 1,000 races on TV and attended 50+ races in person.  I have been one of the lucky fans to have great experiences like a pace car ride with Rusty Wallace, garage passes, a shop tour at Petty Enterprises, and several meet-and-greet driver events.  I even had the opportunity to cover NASCAR races for a Michigan newspaper when I was in high school and college.  My favorite memory will always be watching my dad give the invocation at the Busch Grand National race in Talladega in 1994

During that trip to Talladega my dad and I also visited the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and the Civil Rights Institute at the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombings in Birmingham that killed four little girls.  While White Privilege was not the terminology of the day during that trip, it marked for me the first time I realized the advantages given to me as a 16-year old male growing up in a middle-class white family.  When we attended the Talladega race at the end of that week, it was hard to ignore the Confederate flags and near complete whiteness of the crowd in attendance

In the years since that trip, I’ve always attributed the lack of people of color working in the sport and attending as fans as heritage of a southern sport and due to the fact that grass-roots racing requires money and access to local tracks – both of which are often out of reach for many people of color.  I was encouraged when I saw efforts by NASCAR with its Drive for Diversity, its radio ads for racial inclusion, and some of drivers calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from tracks.  I even commented two weeks ago to my dad when we attended the Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway that it was the most diverse crowd I had experienced as a NASCAR fan, and it was great to see families from different races enjoy the event

Unfortunately, the spoken words by two team owners and some crew members, the behavior of fans on social media, and, most importantly, the lack of courage by the NASCAR leadership team the last two weeks has quickly diminished the encouragement I felt at Chicago.  The NASCAR community, by and large, has fallen for the trap of allowing legitimate protests on systematic racism in this country to be confused with respect for our troops and the flag.  With the millions of dollars NASCAR has invested in managing fan interaction on social media, I know you are aware of the racist comments by many of your fans in response to these peaceful protests.  As a NASCAR fan, if I was a person of color, after seeing these posts, I certainly would not feel included in the NASCAR community and frankly might even be concerned for my safety at one of your events

Rather than trying to thread the needle so as not to offend the fan base, real leadership requires courage and leaders who are willing to publicly state their values on issues of right and wrong.  NASCAR’s response to the flying of the Confederate flag at its tracks, the unfortunate association to Trump’s campaign, and the reaction to the peaceful kneeling protests have consistently lacked that courage.  Your desire to not offend has created an atmosphere that tolerates racist attitudes and certainly does not encourage inclusion

It is time for NASCAR to take a strong stand that our country and our sport are grounded in equal rights for all, and that behaviors by any of its participants – including fans – not inclusive of all members of our community will be permanently banned from the sport.  It is also time for courageous leaders to state that you support efforts to highlight the racial disparity in our country and that you and your organization are committed to fighting that disparity.  Now is not the time for nuance.  Now is the time for unwavering, public support for civil rights and inclusion

My ticket renewal for next year’s Chicago race came in the mail this week.  I sit here and question if by renewing my tickets I am associating myself with a community that does not support inclusion.  More importantly, I question if the time and money I have invested in my eight-year-old son becoming my future race buddy was a mistake in my own judgement, and, if I continue, will it reflect negatively on my character.  My hope is that NASCAR leadership will show the courage and character to not make that be the case.