Perhaps not surprisingly, this predominantly white sport seemed reluctant to join national outrage over the death of George Floyd while in police custody – a stark contrast to his rush to be the first major sport. to come back during the coronavirus pandemic.
Looking to the NASCAR weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which will be the fourth track to host fanless races, truck driver Matt Crafton was asked about protests in the 50 states and around the world to demand the end of police violence against African-Americans.
“I’m just trying to stay out of social media,” said Crafton, clearly uncomfortable with the subject. “In the end, there is a lot to say. I don’t try to get involved a lot. It was a terrible thing that happened to the gentleman from Minneapolis. But there are a lot of things going on that I prefer not to talk about. ”
Bubba Wallace, the only African American in the high-level Cup series, expressed frustration that so many drivers are hesitant to speak up.
“A few pilots – very few – have given their opinion on the issue of the day and I appreciate it,” said Wallace on the Dale Earnhardt Jr podcast. “But the silence of the best pilots in our sport is more than frustrating . … Our sport has always had a racist label. NASCAR – everyone thinks of redneck, the Confederate flag, racists – and I hate that. I hate it because I know that NASCAR is so much more. ”
Wallace said he encouraged other pilots to take up the cause, including rising star Chase Elliott, who won in Charlotte on May 29 and will start from pole position in Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 – essentially a home race for the native of Georgia.
“Did I say you don’t care what’s going on in the world? Said Wallace. “It is not the right way to do it. Our voices carry so much more weight than Joe Schmo on the street. I said we have to do better, we have to make everyone say what they feel. ”
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, in his last season as a full-time driver, contacted Wallace to ask what he could do.
“This is a big question I am asking myself right now,” said Johnson, who will be honored in what could be his last race in Atlanta by having a grandstand bearing his name. “When you sit down and listen, you realize that there are many injustices happening across a broad spectrum. As a representative of our sport and a just citizen, it is really time to listen. I can’t wait to see the path that leads me and the ways in which I can be active. ”
Although African Americans are rare in NASCAR, Johnson said he was surprised by what Wallace went through to reach the next level.
“I had no idea what challenges he was facing,” said Johnson. “I want to have a voice. I want to resist injustices. I’m trying to find that voice. Part of this trip is to educate myself. I’m very deep into it. ”
Originally scheduled to host the Cup series on March 15, Atlanta became the first race to be postponed due to the pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Americans.
Johnson has won the 1.54 mile trioval five times which is known for its slippery, worn surface which emphasizes tire wear and makes the most of long runs. Immersed in a winless streak that has stretched for more than three years, he finally hopes to break into one of his favorite tracks.
Even if he doesn’t win, it will be a memorable weekend. The winners’ gallery will be renamed the Johnson Tribune, joining the chapters named in honor of its seven Cup champions Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
“Certainly there will be no fans to celebrate,” said Johnson. “But it’s always a moving and special time to get back on track for what may be the last time. ”
Johnson acknowledged that taking a stand against racism and police brutality could spark a reaction from some NASCAR fans.
“Obviously, this is a very contentious subject,” he said. “But you have to follow your heart and the positions you believe in. It is difficult to live life caring for others. You have to let the passion of your life show through. The things you believe in, you have to follow that.
“In the end, I feel the need to have a voice on this. I’m still trying to find that voice, but I’m pulled that way more than I have been at other times. There is just something inside me that makes me feel like I have to do it. ”
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