It’s easy to write off his win by saying, “that’s just how Southern people are.” But that feels at once too easy and partially untrue.
After spending a very long time with so-called rednecks, I both understand and am baffled by Trump’s victory.
Firstly, Southern people are some of the kindest people I have ever met. I’m not talking fancy Southern, like people who read the Bitter Southerner. I’m talking rednecks. Jorts-wearing, NASCAR-watching, tractor-driving rednecks. People at races are often some of the kindest people I have ever met. I think of the women who watched over me, as a 14-year-old, while my dad went down to get beers, or of the people who saw a kid liked Kyle Busch and tried not to boo him too much when he came around. I think of the fellowship of buying beers for your whole row or sharing your binoculars or informing the guy next to you what you just heard on your scanner.
Yes, Southerners are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met, but with one caveat: only to each other.
Remember the Confederate flag controversy last year, where fans refused to take their flags off their RVs in the infield? Remember when Darrell Wallace, Jr., a black driver, took over NASCAR’s Instagram account at the BET awards and got pelted with racial epithets? Ever heard a fan discuss what they think of Danica? There’s a really strong xenophobia that undercuts the fellowship at these races. If you’re not a white Southern man, we’re not talking to you. Our arm of kindness only extends so far.
At Daytona, my dad and I were in the massive crowd for driver intros, right by the end of the walkway. A woman wearing a hijab and her son, wearing a Kyle Busch hat, wove through the crowd and stopped right at the end. Immediately, everyone around me turned to stare and whisper about her. I even heard someone say, “If there’s an explosion there, you know why.” I really regret not going up to her to offer a hand of kindness, but the crowd was so big it swept us apart.
After seeing something like that, it’s really easy to understand why Donald Trump won South Carolina. The hatred for minorities is as strong at a NASCAR race as it is at a Trump rally. NASCAR tries hard to distance itself from that image by championing its Drive for Diversity program, where Wallace, Kyle Larson, and Daniel Suarez all got their start. But the attempt at inclusivity falls completely flat when you actually go to a race. Nobody cheers for Suarez or Wallace, and they give you dirty looks when you do.
The attempt falls even flatter with France’s endorsement of a hatefully racist candidate. It’s sad to see such a public figure not have it figured out. Just half a year ago, France called the Confederate flag an “insensitive symbol,” and now he’s endorsing an insensitive symbol, if you will, of a lot of pent-up aggression and hatred. The Drive for Diversity initiative doesn’t make a lot of sense if you endorse a candidate who would like to see a lot of your diversity drivers deported. (Pandering has always seemed to be France’s talent.)
I desperately want to believe that this subset of Southern people aren’t full of such hatred. I believe that we, as NASCAR fans, have the chance to reverse all stereotypes that people hold about us. But after witnessing both Southern hospitality and Southern hatred in one weekend, I’m not sure that will ever happen.
In short, I’m surprised at how unsurprised I am about Trump’s popularity in the South and in NASCAR. It seems like the racism and xenophobia trickles down from the top.