Tag Archives: nascar

NASCAR and Trump

While I was in Daytona, Donald Trump was winning the South Carolina primary. The week after, Brian France endorsed him.

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.

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This year’s Daytona weekend may have been one of my favorite weekends to date. I’ll admit I attached a lot of significance to the trip: I’ve been working without a true day off for about two weeks at a time, and I don’t see that changing any time in the near future, so this was my only real vacation for a long time. Add in the fact that Daytona is my actual happy place and weeks spent listening to Southern rock to prepare, and I think it’s obvious that I got emotional when I got there. I literally teared up when Dad and I ascended the stairs to see the track for the first time Friday night. The view was gorgeous, to boot:


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Stewart, Ward, etc.

By now, I’m pretty sure everyone is tired of hearing about Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. (I even kind of am.) But there are just a few things that still strike me about this story:

1. The absolute vitriol that attacked Tony after it happened. People immediately called him a murderer and suggested that NASCAR ban him for life. Of course people are entitled to their own opinions, but it seems like these opinions are really strong and vicious. I followed the story as it was breaking on Twitter (totally by accident, I should have been asleep) and my God at some of the tweets. There were people saying that Tony should rot in hell before it was even announced that Ward died. Even the divisiveness of this situation is surprising.

2. Can we please get people who actually know about racing to comment on these stories? It’s so obvious that the regular sports anchors know nothing about racing. I even heard one confuse Sprint Cup and sprint cars. Shit, let’s just pay Ricky Craven to do all the talking about NASCAR on ESPN from now on.

3. I’m seriously glad, though, that this time nobody is trying to say that dirt car racing should be ended immediately because it’s too dangerous. That’s usually a response I hear when there’s a death in a racing series.

4. I like that NASCAR banned the drivers from exiting their cars after a caution. I’ve heard a lot of people playing the devil’s advocate and saying that this could lead to drivers staying in a burning car because they’re afraid of getting a penalty. I even heard one person say that the driver might be staying in the car with a gas leak which could kill them. I think we’re going to extremes on this and almost endorsing a dangerous practice that should have ended years ago. Nobody should be getting out of their cars to flip someone off or point at them (Danica, I’m looking at you.) It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this for people to realize that it’s dangerous to walk on a race track where cars are currently driving, but I’m just glad it’s over now. I hope there aren’t any drivers who try to be weird about the rule, like staying in the smoking car and being like “Oh, well, I don’t want a penalty so I’m going to stay in,” but time will tell. I don’t want anyone else to die because of a silly decision. 

I feel like everything else I could say has already been harped on. I just hope Tony does what’s best for him, whether that’s to keep racing or stop racing. I hope he’s able to find peace in whatever way he knows how. I’ll support him no matter what he does.

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