On Tuesday, Raphael Orlove and Bill Caswell posed the question on Jalopnik, “Why Aren’t There More ‘Out’ Gay Race Car Drivers?” Actually, there are more than you think.
Evan Darling is an openly gay driver known best for his efforts in road racing. Evan raced in the GRAND-AM Road Racing Series as a part of the Street Tuner class of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge — then known as the Koni Challenge.
Justin Mullikin is an out and open race car driver running in the NASCAR Grand National Sportsmen division, which falls under the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Last season Justin was chosen, by the track officials and tech directors at Lacrosse Speedway in West Salem, Wisconsin for the Competition Achievement Award. It’s an award for someone who had an outstanding achievement at the track, is well respected by competitors and has an overall positive impact on the speedway.
Stephen Rhodes is a long time late-model stock car racer and he raced in NASCAR’s Truck Series in 2003. Stephen took time off from racing to help his partner open a restaurant in North Carolina but he plans to return NASCAR’s Truck Series in 2014.
The now-defunct SPEED Network’s Race Hub recently profiled Stephen and his efforts to return to the track. With one small exception, Rhodes had no problems being out in the garage. "Everyone knew, everyone was aware; never really had any confrontations," Rhodes said to NASCAR Race Hub. "There was one, little incident that happened that I felt was geared towards who I was, more than anything. That kind of made me second-guess the sport for a second, but at the end of the day, it didn't really bother me."
But how would the people in the garage and the other drivers react?
In an exclusive interview with Queers4Gears, the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Brad Keselowski said, “I don’t think anyone cares (if a driver is gay.) If you can win, you’ll have a ride in NASCAR.” Keselowski added, “If you can win, people will want to be a part of what you can do.”
After NBA player Jason Collins came out of the closet, driver Carl Edwards went a step further speaking on ESPN’s NASCAR Now. Edwards said, “I don’t really think it would be that big of an issue. I always tell people, at the end of the day, one of the greatest things about auto racing is you don’t have to be a certain size, shape, color or gender.” Edwards added, “If you can go out there and drive a race car, and you can do it well, you’re a respected race car driver.”
NASCAR, the sanctioning body, released a statement saying, “NASCAR is a community made up of people from every walk of life. Our employees — regardless of their race, age, national origin, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, faith or physical abilities — do an outstanding job of helping to bring the best racing in the world to our fans every week and that is what matters. It's a stated goal for our sport to reflect America's diversity. Exclusion or intolerance of any kind — whether behind the wheel, on pit road, or in the garage — is not part of that philosophy.”
That statement is accurate, as the representation of openly gay people in the sport is not limited to drivers.
ESPN recently profiled Matthew Pattison, an openly gay official who’s worked in the sport for 15 years and is one of the main officials in the Timing and Scoring Tower.
Queers4Gears profiled an openly gay employee at Michael Waltrip Racing — who works in the organization with his partner. Craig Wadsworth has been working in the sport for 20 years and feeds the entire MWR Team every weekend. Ty Norris, the Vice President and General Manager of MWR told Q4G, “Michael Waltrip Racing is a reflection of all society. We are a welcoming workplace who cares only about the quality of people’s performance and Craig in an exemplary employee.”
But what about the sponsors you ask — would an openly gay driver be able to attract a sponsor? I think that answer is yes.
Queers4Gears took a look at all of the major sponsors in NASCAR and how they scored on the HRC Equality Index. The CEI (Corporate Equality Index) is published every year by the HRC. It provides an in-depth analysis and rating of large U.S. employers and their policies and practices pertinent to LGBT employees.
So how does the NASCAR Garage rate? Quite well actually! Nearly half of the sponsors score a perfect 100 and the average score for all sponsors was 75.62.
It’s worth noting that average was dragged down by the abysmal score of (-)15 given to Exxon/Mobile. Do you remember in school when the teacher told you how many A’s it would take to bring up a zero on your quiz — that same math applies here. Without the negative rating for Exxon/Mobile, NASCAR Sponsors as a whole would score even higher.
What about the fans? NASCAR is most popular in the South and the fan base does lean towards the conservative. Will there be fans that refuse to accept an openly gay driver? Sure there will be.
But you know what will start to change those attitudes? Openly gay drivers.
Nothing changes a person’s views more than them knowing and caring about a gay person in their life. You don’t need to look much further than Dick Cheney to see that. Cheney’s political views are to the right of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity’s love child. But Cheney’s view on LGBT rights is squarely in the progressive camp — because he has a gay child.
Attitudes about gay people are changing in America and the grandstands at the race track will not be immune to this shift.
Michael Myers is the editor and founder of Queers4Gears. Michael enjoys nice romantic golf cart rides along the beach and burning trash in his back yard. He’s never been arrested and has only been in hand cuffs once.
Photo Credit: Jason Torchinsky, base photo AP Images, Facebook