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NASCAR Confronts Racism in Powerful Messages Before Race in Atlanta

NASCAR is not necessarily known for its diversity. It has one black driver in Bubba Wallace on the Cup Series. Driver Kyle Larson was suspended indefinitely in April for using a racial slur during an iRacing event. In the initial days following the death of George Floyd, the racing series remained largely silent until a statement on June 1 appeared on Twitter. Today, before the start of the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR stepped up in a big way by delivering multiple messages addressing the current unrest in our nation.

Bubba Wallace and Jeff Gordon offer their perspectives

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Less than an hour before the green flag dropped at the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 in Atlanta, the Fox Sports broadcast joined the ongoing national conversation on racism and racial inequality and what is happening in cities across the country. 

Bubba Wallace described how he had talked with his NASCAR competitors in recent days and encouraged them to use their voices. He concluded with an emotional text he received from his mother the day after George Floyd died. 

“Good morning, I pray as the mom of a black son I never have to hear you crying out, I can’t breathe. I love you, Bubba, and your life matters to me,” Wallace read the text, before breaking into tears. 

Following the interview with Wallace, the cameras returned to Jeff Gordon in the studio, who then offered his thoughts in an emotion-filled statement. 

“Bubba Wallace is like many drivers I’ve encountered along the way—thoughtful, talented, fiercely competitive. We share in the fact that we made it to the pinnacle of motorsports, the NASCAR Cup Series, but our journeys, both professional and personal, are vastly different. I’ll never know what it’s like to walk in Bubba’s shoes or the shoes of anyone who has experienced racism. But I do know; I can be better. We can do better to create positive change. I’ve been in NASCAR for more than 25 years, and when people are in pain, and the world is in crisis, our community doesn’t take that lightly and wants to do their part to help. But we need to step up now more than we ever have in the past. We are listening. We are learning. We are ready for change.”

Jeff Gordon

NASCAR president speaks before start of race

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On the final lap before the drop of the green flag, the pace car stopped as did all the cars on the front straightaway. Pit crew members all stood on the pit row wall including some holding shirts saying “I Can’t Breathe” as NASCAR president Steve Phelps addressed the competitors over the radio, which was also broadcast to the national television audience watching.

“Thank you for your time. Our country is in pain, and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard. The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us 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 and join us as we now pause 30 seconds to listen.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps

When the message ended, the cameras showed several pit crew members visibly shaken and moved to tears.

NASCAR airs video message from drivers

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As the drivers and pit crews observed a moment of silence, the broadcast showed a video that was posted on Chase Elliott’s Twitter timeline a few hours earlier that presented a unified message from the NASCAR drivers in a similar style to what the NFL players produced earlier this week. Among the drivers included were Elliott, Wallace, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ty Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle and Kurt Busch, and several others including NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr. 

Bubba Wallace opened with “We’re no strangers to moving fast,” and the rest of the drivers continued the message.

“We’re no strangers to moving fast, and we know how life can have that same quality. But now is the time to slow down and reflect. The events of recent weeks highlight the work we still need to do as a nation to condemn racial inequality and racism. 

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others in the black community are heartbreaking and can no longer be ignored. The process begins with us listening, and learning, because understanding the problem is the first step in fixing it. 

“We are committed to listening with empathy and with an open heart to better educate ourselves. We will use this education to advocate for change in our nation, our communities, and most importantly, in our own homes. Even after the headlines go away, all of our voices can make a difference, no matter how big or how small, it is all of our responsibility to no longer be silent. 

“We have a long road ahead of us, but let’s commit to make that journey together. Our differences should not divide us. It is our love for all mankind that will unite us as we work together to make real change.”

After the drivers’ video ended, Fox Sports’ Mike Joy took over and finished with a powerful statement of his own. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men, ALL men are created equal. That’s from the Declaration of Independence. As true or truer now, as it was then.”