One day recently I was discussing with a childhood friend my experiences covering NASCAR races. To my surprise her response to my newfound excitement about the sport was “Oh, I LOVE NASCAR!” I’ve known this friend for over 15 years. We graduated from high school together. I was in her wedding. We’ve had plenty of conversations about everything, and naturally as a lifelong sports lover, several of those conversations have been about sports. Never once did this friend tell me that she grew up with her grandfather watching stock car racing. She never told me that she knows about all the drivers and keeps up with the weekly standings in Sprint Cup series. She never told me that her favorite driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr. She never even mentioned NASCAR.
This is not the only story of this kind. Every time I attend a race or write an article about NASCAR, I have someone bashfully mention that they are an avid fan of the sport. It’s ok, black people. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Unfortunately, because of the racist stereotypes that surround NASCAR, racing has gotten a bad rap. And having attended a few races, I’m not going to front like there aren’t a few fans that make it known that you aren’t welcomed to what they think is an exclusive racing club for whites. But the sport itself, for obvious economic reasons, is extremely embracing of those from varied ethnic backgrounds. And we as blacks, as in every other aspect of this country, have a place in its history.
From pioneers Charlie Scott, who in 1956 was the first African-American to compete in a NASCAR race, and Wendell Scott who was the first black to win a NASCAR race in 1963 and had a very successful stock car career, to Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Gifford, two up-and-coming drivers primed to make waves in the Sprint Cup series in the future, there’s no reason any African-Americans should feel like they have to whisper that they are fans.
Whether you are from the back roads of Darlington, SC or the small town of Kannapolis, NC, racing has been a part of your history. Whether your grandfather listened to the races on the radio or your father watched them on TV, you have a historical connection to the sport. So, the next time you’re in a group of people who are discussing sports, don’t be too shy to mention NASCAR. You might be surprised who shares the same love you do.