On Monday, NASCAR CEO Brian France, Hall of Famer Bill Elliot, and drivers Ryan Newman, David Ragan, and Chase Elliot (Bill’s 20-year-old son), took the stage at a Donald Trump rally in Georgia and endorsed Trump for president.
“You know about his winning, and business and success,” France said. “He wins with his family. Any of his children, you’d be proud of having them as part of your family. That’s how I judge a winner, how somebody manages their family and raises their family.”
While NASCAR said that this was a “private, personal decision” by France, Trump is touting this as an endorsement by the entire sport. And that really isn’t a far reach — as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo put it, “France doesn’t just run NASCAR, his family is synonymous with the sport since his grandfather Bill Sr. helped found it in 1948 in Daytona Beach, Florida.”
Got the endorsement of Brian France and @NASCAR yesterday in Georgia. Also, many of the sports great drivers. Thank you Nascar and Georgia!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 1, 2016
This very public endorsement of a man who has called Mexicans “rapists,” kicked black students out of his rallies for no apparent reason, and hesitated to condemn the Ku Klux Klan, directly contradicts NASCAR’s recent push for more diversity and inclusion.
Last July, NASCAR pulled its end-of-year banquets from Trump’s Doral resort in Miami after his comments about Mexican immigrants being rapists and drug dealers. At the time, Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Camping World, the title sponsor of NASCAR’s Truck Series, denounced Trump’s comments as “blatantly bigoted and racist” in an open letter to NASCAR and France.
“Our company will not stand to support any person or organization that associates with such beliefs and we feel strongly about distancing ourselves from any negative and discriminatory comments made against any gender, ethnicity, age group or so forth,” he said. “I would hope that the entire NASCAR organization would agree with my sentiments.”
Lemonis, whose company is reportedly paying NASCAR $35 million over seven years, was clearly unhappy with France’s endorsement of Trump on Monday.
There is no place for politics/any political endorsements in any business. Your customers and employees should have their own mind. #period
— Marcus Lemonis (@marcuslemonis) March 1, 2016
In recent years, NASCAR has been actively trying to broaden its appeal beyond its overwhelmingly white and southern roots.
Twelve years ago, the organization founded Drive for Diversity, a program that aims to give opportunity and support to minority and female drivers. After a rough start, Drive for Diversity has begun seeing success stories, such as Darrell Wallace Jr., who in 2013 became the first African American driver to win a NASCAR national series race in nearly 50 years, and Daniel Suarez, a Mexican driver who was the 2015 NASCAR XFinity Series Rookie of the Year.
And NASCAR has made a concerted effort to publicize its recent diversity efforts. Less than two weeks ago, it held the 2016 NASCAR Diversity Awards, which honored drivers such as Suarez and Abraham Calderon, the 2014 NASCAR Mexico Series Champion.
“Becoming more diverse and inclusive is a huge priority at NASCAR and we continue to make long-term investments to boost female and minority participation across every level of our sport, on and off the track,” Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, said in a press release announcing the award winners. “Widening our appeal is critical to our continued expansion and we are proud to honor today’s winners, and many others across the industry, for their hard work and support.”
Becoming more diverse and inclusive is a huge priority at NASCAR.
In August, NASCAR announced that it was collaborating with Eugenio Derbez, “one of Mexico’s most-recognizable stars,” on an “original, full-length comedy movie.” Just weeks prior, Derbez publicly denounced Trump as he received an Outstanding Achievement honor from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers.
“I’ve been trying to work in this country for the past 12 years, and it hasn’t been easy. I have dealt with rejections, ignorance, and in some cases even disrespect about our Latino community. For example, people like Donald Trump,” Derbez said in his speech. “[Trump] claims that all of the Mexicans in this country are either drug dealers or rapists. You’re wrong, Mr. Trump. We are honest and hard-working people.”
Last July, as backlash against the racist roots of the Confederate flag grew in several states, NASCAR and members of its industry asked that Confederate flags be banned from all NASCAR events.
“We are committed to providing a welcoming atmosphere free of offensive symbols,” a statement read. “This is an opportunity for NASCAR Nation to demonstrate its sense of mutual respect and acceptance for all who attend our events while collectively sharing the tremendous experience of NASCAR racing.”
Trump wants to build a wall to keep Mexicans out. He believes in mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, and wants to end birthright citizenship. He has received endorsement from many xenophobic lawmakers, including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. Trump’s rhetoric has inspired his supporters to act out in extreme ways against Latinos and immigrants.
While France and NASCAR drivers are, of course, free to vote for whomever they want for President, public stances like this make it hard to take any talks about inclusion and tolerance seriously. You can’t have it both ways.