I wasn't a NASCAR fan, but I grew up around it and still am surrounded by it when visiting family. It runs in the background on Sunday afternoons, like it always has, while we talk and eat lunch together and my aunt intermittently naps in her recliner. She’ll tell you that the sound of the cars zooming around the track is the perfect background noise for sleeping... I could agree with her there. I took lots of naps during the NASCAR races.
I just wasn't into racing as a kid. Football was what I enjoyed watching! I loved the constant action. I couldn't see the point of watching cars go around and around while waiting for something "exciting" to happen (aka a crash). Isn't it a little sadistic hoping for a wreck?? Ah well, to each their own. Regardless of whether or not I was a fan, NASCAR was a part of my life growing up.
My dad and I have some pretty funny NASCAR memories from my teenage years. Every Sunday he’d put the race on the TV and go out in the garage to work on his cars leaving the TV unattended. I’d see it on with nobody around and either turn it off, or change the channel to watch something that I wanted to watch. After a few minutes, I’d get bored, turn off the TV and go to my room. He’d be working in the garage and all of a sudden come bursting through the back door and run to the TV to yell, “Who turned the TV off?!?” I was just a teenager who didn't want to get in trouble so I would pretend I didn't hear him holler from my room upstairs.
I never understood my dad's race watching strategy until literally a couple years ago when it came up in conversation. Apparently, while he was working in the garage, he was also listening to the race on the radio. When he'd hear that there was a wreck on the radio, he'd run back inside to see the crash on replay (there was no DVR at this point in time) to someone had turned the TV off! He'd frantically look for the remote (that I had inevitably put in a weird location) only to turn on the TV and find it wasn't even on the right channel. In my defense, I never knew that this was what was going on. I just thought he wasn't interested in the race because he would leave the TV on in an empty room. This happened MANY times over the years and we had a real good laugh about it when we both finally figured out what was going on almost two decades later! :)
There have been a lot of good times spent with my family watching NASCAR, and some fun memories. However, there is one memory that I have never been able to shake and that made me determined not to become a fan...
On November 20 of 2011, Michelle Obama was asked to deliver the quintessential line, "Gentlemen, start your engines." She and Jill Biden took the opportunity to also promote the Joining Forces Initiative that connects military veterans with jobs. She and Jill Biden stood in front of that crowd alongside Sgt. Andrew Barry (a military sniper who was wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan), his wife and four children. Let me also add that Sgt. Barry is white, his wife is black and his children are mixed. When they all reached the podium, NASCAR spectators BOOED Michelle Obama.
I still get angry when I recall this. It was horrible enough that they booed her, but what about that family and those kids who were probably scared out of their wits to be standing in front of a huge crowd of angry adults. What was going through their minds? I wonder what their memory of the event is. I distinctly remember the shame and embarrassment I felt as a white Southerner seeing that happen; because I knew WHY it was happening. It was appalling and despicable, and what interest I had in the sport leading up to that moment immediately evaporated.
I bet some of you are getting your hackles up because you feel like I’m calling you a racist. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that you are a racist or that all NASCAR fans are racist. But can you honestly deny that red-neck racism runs deep in NASCAR culture?
It is estimated that 90% of NASCAR fans are white. Why is that? If you've been to a race, can you tell me in complete honesty that a black or Hispanic person would feel comfortable and safe there? If you answer, no, then why do you think that is? Among many other things, do you think that, maybe, just maybe, the Confederate flag might have a little something to do with it?
White southerners cling to the Confederate flag and the Confederate statues as a part of their "heritage." Heritage is defined as "something that has been passed down from generation to generation: a tradition." So, I have to ask, what "tradition" is the Confederate flag representing? What part of history are you so desperately clinging to? Do you want to go back to a confederacy? If so, how can you justify flying a UNITED States flag alongside a flag that is a sign of dissent? Are you clinging onto the good old days of the Old South? If you are, it is impossible to separate the Old South from the oppression of blacks and that flag is inherently a racist symbol.
The South's entire economy was built on the backs of slaves. The more slaves you owned, the richer and more powerful you were. This is an indisputable fact. The Old South/Confederacy represents a time when white males (female oppression is another issue altogether) were considered genetically superior to all other races and were given free reign to rule with an iron fist. Is that what you are clinging to? Is that what you represent? Because that is what the flag says to me, a white Southerner. And it sure as heck is the message it sends to blacks no matter how you try to spin it. The Confederate flag reminds us all of a time that whites should be ashamed of and blacks are saddened and infuriated by. It is a part of history and it is important that we not forget our history lest we repeat our mistakes; but it should not be a part of our "heritage" anymore.
The fervor with which many Southerners cling to their Confederate flags and large base of NASCAR fans they comprise if why I was stunned, absolutely stunned, on June 10th when NASCAR announced it is banning the Confederate flag. I was beyond excited, but in shock. I never would have predicted NASCAR to take this stand. And if that wasn't enough, they let Bubba Wallace paint BLACK LIVES MATTER on his car! What the what! It filled me with so much hope. The protests are working, this is visible progress!
And then, and THEN, a noose appeared in Bubba Wallace's garage before the race. A noose! Are you freakin' kidding me! It doesn't get anymore despicable. I seethe with anger again. Everytime there is progress for equality, racism rears its ugly head!
And then, this happens...
Instead of simply announcing disapproval of the heinous act and moving on with the race, in a sign of solidarity and support NASCAR comes alongside their sole black driver. As the racers and crews march behind Bubba Wallace, it is a reminder that the protests against racism and for equality are effecting change. It is a statement that "it is always the right time to do what is right." It renews my hope and, for the first time, I feel pride in the fact that I come from a family of NASCAR fans. My family has tried to convince me to like NASCAR for years, but NASCAR itself might have finally won me over.
"Therefore since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." -Hebrew 12:1
Here you will find my thoughts on life and religion. I pray this will be a space where you will not only be encouraged, but would become an active participant as well.