Monday saw Simon Pagenaud become the first Indy 500 winner to visit the White House since 2006, which, hm. Pagenaud did his assigned job of standing there and being relatively boring, but the real weirdness began when President Trump decided to just start riffing on NASCAR instead.
You can watch the whole video of the ceremony below, most of which is tedious and really does include our beloved president declaring yet another person a “loser,” but our focus is on one of Trump’s specific statements. Namely, this one:
And I love NASCAR because they endorsed me. I think it’s the first time ever that a sports league endorsed a candidate. The whole league endorsed me.
In context, Trump is referring to Roger Penske being at the White House earlier in the year to celebrate Joey Logano’s Cup title. But the even deeper context lies in the deeply strange relationship between NASCAR and Trump.
Back in 2016, NASCAR CEO Brian France got up on a stage, flanked by some NASCAR drivers, and vocalized his support of then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump back in 2016. While that could have been, by any rational person, be instantly perceived as a ringing endorsement of Trump’s campaign, France claimed that he was but a mere citizen, and his personal support of Trump did not necessarily reflect the views of NASCAR as a whole.
Which is a thought that seems, uh, exceptionally misguided, considering that his whole family has been involved in NASCAR since they, well, founded it. If there’s someone who’s entire belief system is likely to represent a sport, it’s Brian France with NASCAR. (And, y’know—if you want to claim you’re not speaking for NASCAR as a whole, maybe don’t bring a bunch of NASCAR drivers with you to reiterate your opinion?)
Especially when you consider that NASCAR had, in 2015, been forced to relocate an awards ceremony that had traditionally been planned for a Trump venue, before his infamous comments on Hispanic immigrants.
In fact, NASCAR, as a series, has made some hopeful attempts at becoming a little more diverse and a little more welcoming to all people. Their Diversity program attempts to introduce women and people of color into the series, however effective it may actually be.
But, as we’ve noted before, NASCAR is a provincial sport, born and bred in a deep South riddled with racism and with a history that largely excludes women or people of color. There are stereotypes about who, exactly, NASCAR fans are, that aren’t exactly helped by legends like Richard Petty threatening to fire anyone on his team that protests the American national anthem (a feat that Trump openly praised).
Ultimately, though, that belief may not be as wrong as France argued. NASCAR has final control over what logos and images appear on the cars, which means that it did approve Reed Sorenson’s Trump-Pence livery, Austin Self’s Trump ‘Victory Truck’, and Korbin Forrister’s Trump ads. If NASCAR’s official stance was to remain apolitical, it could easily have nixed those ideas in the bud.
France’s endorsement of Trump and subsequent denial that all of NASCAR supported Trump has basically had its intended effect, now that even Trump understands France was speaking for NASCAR as a whole. Congratulations to everyone who thought that maybe we could distinguish NASCAR from its notably bad CEO, as we’re all the fools now.
We’ve reached out to NASCAR for comment and will update if they respond.