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NASCAR speaking out for justice in wake of George Floyd’s death is a major step forward Featured

Posted On Sunday, 07 June 2020 22:14 Written by
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NASCAR Cup Series competitor Bubba Wallace wears a "I Can't Breathe — Black Lives Matter" T-shirt under his fire suit in solidarity with protesters around the world taking to the streets after the death of George Floyd, prior to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 7, 2020, in Hampton, Georgia. NASCAR Cup Series competitor Bubba Wallace wears a "I Can't Breathe — Black Lives Matter" T-shirt under his fire suit in solidarity with protesters around the world taking to the streets after the death of George Floyd, prior to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 7, 2020, in Hampton, Georgia. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Today’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a major milestone for NASCAR, and the significance had nothing to do with Kevin Harvick’s dominating performance on the track.

As the national outrage continues against the death of George Floyd from a knee to his neck from the police (a very literal metaphor in so many powerful ways), and America demands justice, NASCAR could have sat this one out. 

It’s clear from the reaction today that a large percentage of the sport’s fan base did not want to hear the sport weigh in on the topic that’s dominated the news for the past two weeks. They just wanted to watch a race and see their favorite drivers compete, and forget about all the strife around the nation for a few hours.

But there are times when you have to choose which side of history you want to be on. And you should not sit out. This is one of those times.

NASCAR would be the first to admit that it has not always been on the right side of history when It comes to race relations. From the presence of the Confederate flag at the track over the decades, to denying African-American driver Wendell Scott the chance to celebrate his Cup series win (and the general racism towards Scott and other African-American drivers who have competed over the years), and more recently the Kyle Larson controversy involving the N-word being spoken during an online race.   

But NASCAR is starting to get it. 

Their actions (and more importantly, actions of Larson’s sponsors) were swift against Larson, and when it came to our current situation, NASCAR was smart to realize how important it was that they do not gloss over this important moment in American history.

Even before the race weekend, drivers including Bubba Wallace, Ty Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, and even Dale Earnhardt Jr. got involved in the discussion online, showing that the new generation of drivers is more awake to what is really going on in this country and how much change is still needed.

Fast forward to today, with Bubba Wallace standing on pit lane wearing an “I Can’t Breathe: Black Lives Matter” T-shirt, and NASCAR’s official statement on the issue followed by 30 seconds of silence, and an important statement was made: NASCAR will be there in the fight for equality in this country.

“Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said. “The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better. The time is now to listen. To understand. And to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission. To take a moment of reflection to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport.”

I understand that it’s easy to be cynical. After all, this is the sport that had its former leader (Brian France) openly embrace known racist Donald Trump during the 2016 election, and then welcomed him again this year to the Daytona 500 for a photo-op.

But Brian France is gone. And I’m pretty sure that he would not have supported what NASCAR did today to recognize the tragedy of what happened to George Floyd in Minnesota, the anger it inspired in so many Americans, and exposing the issues of racial inequity and police mistreatment that persist in this nation.

Time will tell if this was just a gesture, but I’m hopeful that the sport I love uses today as a stepping stone to stay on the right side of history when it comes to civil rights in America.

And for every fan who claims they are upset by what happened today and don’t want to watch anymore, I’d like to think NASCAR just made an equal or higher amount of new fans by showing they are in step with how Americans feel in the wake of George Floyd’s unnecessary death.

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Matt Myftiu can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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