Back on the other day in 2001 when much of America mourned — Feb. 18 — I got a lot of calls from friends and former colleagues in the legacy media asking why the middle of our country was so upset that Dale Earnhardt had been killed near the end of the Daytona 500.
Despite racing’s millions of fans, most of those media folks had never heard of Earnhardt.
I have been involved with broadcasting races sanctioned by the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing — otherwise known as NASCAR — for more years than I now care to count.
It is a quintessential American sport.
From Richard Petty, who was the second of four generations of racers, to Kyle Busch, we covered them all on our radio stations.
Today, I’m getting calls from my NASCAR friends asking why the new management of the sport is crapping on them by banning the flying of the Confederate flag, allowing protests during the national anthem and acting like it is all “woke.”
My answer to them is one of two words. Either money or stupidity. Sometimes both.
Stock car racing is a sport that depends on sponsorship. And many sponsor executives are spineless. So the intelligentsia in Daytona has decided that if they want billion-dollar checks from television networks and sponsors, they must weigh in on the social issues of the day.
Here’s the problem:
NASCAR’s demographics weigh heavily in favor of Middle America. These are the people who provide those sponsors with sales and those TV networks with eyeballs. You know, the people who elected Donald Trump.
Why go out of your way to anger your fanbase in the name of being “woke”?
Now you are probably wondering why you have read this far and not yet read the name Bubba Wallace, a 26-year-old kid who is NASCAR’s only black driver, the operative word being kid. He has yet to get his first win. He is two years older than Jeff Gordon was when Gordon won his first Winston Cup season title.
In other words, so far, Bubba is a reliable 10th- through 25th-place player. He’s not Dale Earnhardt or Jeff Gordon.
But boy, does he have a mouth on him.
He doesn’t think NASCAR fans should fly the Confederate flag. And, last week, he got his own story in The Washington Post where I’m guessing the editors had to look up the spelling of “NASCAR.”
The Post in its infinite wisdom said that “Wallace is uniquely suited to lead NASCAR into the future its executives say they want: one in which women and minorities feel welcome and fill the grandstands, pit crews and driver ranks in numbers that mirror the diversity of America.”
How is a middle-of-the-pack driver “uniquely suited” to do that?
So here’s the question: What about NASCAR’s current fanbase, which numbers in the millions?
Where is Danica Patrick these days? (Answer: selling wine and clothes.)
The currency in NASCAR is simple. Winning. If you win, fans don’t care if you’re purple with pink polka dots. If Tim Richmond were still alive, he could tell you, but he died of AIDS in 1989.
If you come into the sport with great hype and don’t win, your next act is selling underwear on GoDaddy.
That’s not racist. It’s the way things are.
It would do young Bubba well to remember that NASCAR is not a social movement; it’s a series of races.
He should go win a cup championship and find out for himself.
CORRECTION, June 17, 2020: An earlier version of this Op-Ed incorrectly referred to the Confederate battle flag as the “Stars and Bars,” which is the nickname for the first official national flag of the Confederacy.
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