Each year, June 1 heralds sudden waves of corporate “support” for Pride Month. In many cases, these public statements of support are wholly contradicted by the publicly visible donations these corporations make to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians. This year, NASCAR is yet another one of those companies.
To kick off Pride Month, the corporate NASCAR account tweeted “we acknowledge that recent actions have not aligned with NASCAR’s mission to be a welcoming sport for all.” That might be understating things.
See, NASCAR’s history is closely tied to conservative politics, and that’s been on display as recently as the NASCAR All-Star Race on May 22. There, Texas governor Greg Abbott waved the honorary green flag to signal the start of the race. Abbott has made headlines in recent months as he directs citizens to report parents of transgender children for abuse, introduces Texas’ own version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, deems books touching on LGBTQ+ subjects “pornography,” and removes suicide hotlines for youth that identify as LGBTQ+. And that’s not even mentioning his role in taking away women’s reproductive rights, enabling restrictive voting measures that target communities of color, banning homeless encampments, funding the border wall, and refusing to address growing concerns around lax firearm regulations.
All this in an era where NASCAR has explicitly stated its desire to ban overt political sponsorships and increase diversity. Not that any of that has stopped drivers in NASCAR-owned series from sporting blatantly political messages, like Ed Pompa’s anti-Fauci message:
Of course, NASCAR’s affiliation with regressive politics is nothing new. NASCAR’s push to build Talladega Superspeedway in the 1960s was possible thanks to series owner Bill France Sr.’s relationship with Alabama governor George Wallace — a staunch Jim Crow advocate known for declaring “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” This is the sporting body that took 58 years to properly recognize Wendell Scott, the first Black NASCAR cup winner, that has partnered with sports websites known for overt sexism (and controversial takes on women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community). The racing organization made Donald Trump the honorary starter of the Daytona 500.
Since the onset of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, NASCAR has started to cut those ties. It banned the Confederate flag from its racetracks and has regularly tweeted support for people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and women, especially within the racing communities. It has offered scholarships and other opportunities for advancement for members of marginalized communities. The problem is, those actions still seem like performative allyship — especially in an era when healthcare, marriage rights, and reproductive freedom are more tenuous than ever before. And especially when NASCAR continues to align itself with ideologies and politicians that directly contradict these new, admirable goals.
I’m willing to give NASCAR the benefit of the doubt. This is a transitory period — some facets of stock car racing are attempting to expand their horizons, while others are holding on to the tried-and-true beliefs that have defined this sport for decades. But if NASCAR is serious about this shift, its actions need to align with its words. No more Greg Abbotts or Donald Trumps at the racetrack. No more sneaky political sponsorships from groups that adamantly reject the lived experience of marginalized people. No more half-assed diversity measures. It’s time to get serious.