by Julian Spivey
For the entirety of my adult life I’ve had to defend my fandom of NASCAR from people believing the only fans of the sport to be rednecks, bigots and ignorant or simple-minded people. It’s not often easy being someone who’s more liberal minded and a fan of a sport with a large conservative fan-base, but I developed a liking to NASCAR when I was around 13 or 14 years old and it stuck. Literally every time someone finds out I’m a NASCAR fan I have to defend myself and explain how all of us fans aren’t ignorant rednecks. I often explain to them that NASCAR is just a sport and sports don’t have political affiliations or opinions.
With one endorsement on Monday night (Feb. 29) all of that fighting for the sport and defending it and trying to get people to realize it isn’t just for simple-minded people has likely gone out the window. At a Donald Trump for President rally at Valdosta State University in Georgia on Monday NASCAR CEO Brian France along with current drivers Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Chase Elliott and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott endorsed Trump for President of the United States.
France, who has known Trump for more than two decades, said: “He wins with his family. Any of his children, you’d be proud to have them as part of your family. That’s how I judge a winner, how somebody manages their family and raises their family.”
NASCAR legend Bill Elliott said: “We need a change, guys. That’s all there is to it. And I think this is the man for the job.”
Never have I been more ashamed to be a fan of NASCAR. France has done a lot of harm to the actual racing or on-track product of the sport in his more than a decade tenure in charge of it, but on Monday night he also did likely irreparable damage to its image and integrity. And, the dumbest thing of it all is this comes less than a year after NASCAR both tried to cut ties with the Confederate flag imagery at its races and cut ties with Trump himself over comments he made about Mexican immigrants being murderers and rapists by removing their championship banquets for the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series from a Trump-owned hotel.
I guess a lot has changed in the seven months since then. Trump has gotten even more bigoted and controversial and now all of a sudden a sport that’s been trying to diversify itself over the last few years has fallen head over heels for him.
How is this supposed to make minority fans of the sport, albeit a small fraction of the fan-base, feel? Hell, how does it make Mexican-born driver Daniel Suarez feel?
A lot has been made lately about how Trump is the favorite candidate of white supremacist groups and the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke has endorsed him and Trump has refused to disavow that endorsement or call out his white supremacist supporters. How does NASCAR feel about jumping on board with a candidate who also has the support of racist hate groups?
NASCAR Vice President David Higdon told Yahoo Sports on Monday night that France’s endorsement of Trump was a “private personal decision by Brian.” However, when France decided to endorse Trump at a public event that was carried on national television it was no longer private and him being the face of NASCAR and having current and former NASCAR drivers at the event also endorsing Trump with him makes it look to the public like it’s the sport endorsing Trump. Not just that, but Trump essentially told the world that the sport was, in fact, endorsing him by saying in a press release: “I am proud to receive the endorsement of such an iconic brand and a quality person such as Brian.” And, nobody from the sport refuted his statement. Trump said at the rally, “If the people that like and watch NASCAR vote for Donald Trump, they can cancel the election right now. Nobody else can win. Nobody.”
France’s decision to endorse Trump could prove to be a remarkably bad business move and he’s already pissed off one of the sports major sponsors. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis tweeted on Monday night: “There is no place for politics/any political endorsements in any business. Your customers and employees should have their own mind. #period” Camping World is the series sponsor for the NASCAR Truck Series. It’s sponsorship of the series isn’t up until 2022.
It’s a remarkably bad look for a major American sport to publicly endorse any Presidential candidate, but it’s especially bad when it happens to be the most controversial Presidential candidate there’s likely ever been – and that includes George Wallace.
France has been a cancer to the sport of NASCAR ever since he took over for his father Bill France Jr. in the early ‘00s and on Monday night he likely set the sport back many years with his endorsement of Trump.
As for the drivers who also endorsed Trump, all I can say is I’m highly disappointed in them, despite not typically caring who an athlete likes or dislikes politically. These are all drivers who I’ve enjoyed watch race and root for on a weekly basis and now I have to question certain things about them that before Monday night I wouldn’t have had to question – like whether or not they might be bigots themselves. That might seem crazy to some, but if you’re supporting a bigot or at least a faux-bigot, you might actually be one yourself. Have Newman, Elliott and Ragan even considered how bad it looks to endorse a candidate that’s also endorsed by a former Klansman? Have their sponsors Caterpillar, NAPA Auto Parts or Dr. Pepper wondered how this might hurt their brands, as well?
I briefly met and even joked around with Ryan Newman at the NASCAR race weekend at Kansas Speedway last October and he was an incredibly friendly person and has always seemed like one of the more sensible drivers in the NASCAR garage. Friendly and sensible are the furthest things away from Trump – so how does a Newman endorsement for this man even make sense? It makes you wonder.
All I really know right now is I’m furious at the sport of NASCAR because whether or not France truly meant for his endorsement to seem like it’s coming from the entirety of the sport that’s exactly what it looks like in the public eye. As someone who’s always defended the sport against its many negative stereotypes – both of itself and its fan-base – I now feel like NASCAR has turned its back on me. As a loyal fan of 15 years that isn’t just disappointing and infuriating, but it also frankly hurts emotionally. I guess Donald Trump would think that makes me a “loser.”