Bernadeau: NASCAR's silence speaks loudly

Only a few drivers, including the only black one, have expressed views on George Floyd’s death

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NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace acknowledges the crowd during the Ford EcoBoost 400 on Nov. 18,2 018 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports

Athletes have an amazing ability to compartmentalize.

But in the midst of a volatile time in this country, NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace raced with a particular anger Sunday afternoon.

Aggressive throughout the course of the 500-lap affair, Wallace, the lone African-American driver in NASCAR’s top level of competition, piloted his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro to a 10th-place finish during the Supermarket Heroes 500 from Bristol Motor Speedway.

Days later, Wallace revealed why his anger existed during the event and why his frustration lingered afterward.

The 26-year-old driver from Mobile, Ala., was greatly affected by the death of George Floyd, who was murdered while in police custody outside of a grocery store in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Two days after the incident, Wallace tweeted his disgust over the injustice.


However, according to USA Today NASCAR reporter Michelle R. Martinelli, only three of the 30-plus full-time Cup Series drivers had voiced their opinions on the matter on their social media accounts prior to the race.

The other two were Daniel Suárez, a 28-year-old who is the first Mexican-born NASCAR champion at any level, and Ty Dillon, a 28-year-old caucasian who is the grandson of long-time car owner Richard Childress.

Appearing as a guest on the Dale Jr. Download hosted by NASCAR driving legend and current broadcaster Dale Earnhardt Jr., Wallace expressed on Wednesday his frustration to his fellow drivers and the powers that be in NASCAR about the lack of a response from the sport as a whole.

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NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson races during the Ford EcoBoost 400 on Nov. 18, 2018 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports

Wallace’s comments exposed NASCAR in its inability to properly address this matter, but also provided a path to creating a start.
The days following Wallace’s callout, statements from prominent drivers and figures like seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. to NASCAR began to circulate. Additionally, several other drivers participated in the Blackout Tuesday, an initiative to go silent on social media by posting a black square and reflect on recent events.

But given how late many chose to speak up or little was actually said in their statements, considering the history of the sport and strides the spors seeks to make in diversity, NASCAR’s response has bordered on embarrassing.

Notably creating a “Drive for Diversity” development program, the sport has long looked to move past the racist stereotypes that have followed it for decades. Kyle Larson, an Asian-American, was a former NASCAR driver who came up through the developmental program and rose to prominence, but lost his ride in April after video emerged of the 27-year-old driver saying a racial slur multiple times during an iRacing event.


Given how the Larson news circulated, NASCAR’s crawl to a collective response was that much more of a bad look.

Sure, the Floyd incident and all the events that have followed has been a lot to take in, so the idea that so many struggle to come up with the right things to say isn’t ridiculous. For Earnhardt Jr., he deserves the benefit of the doubt in this conversation since he has previously spoken out against the confederate flag and the divisive rallies in Charlottesville from 2017.

But for the sport, whose fanbase and field of drivers are predominately white, it’s not like NASCAR didn’t just have a trial run on how to handle matters involving race nearly two months prior. It’s also not like NASCAR has ever shied away from strong statements.

Several drivers were quick to issue their support of the police and national anthem as then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked a worldwide conversation with his protests of police brutality and racial injustice.

An active driver at the time, Tony Stewart, the car owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, took to Twitter to express his thoughts about Kaepernick three days after his initial protest.

The tweet read, “I'm sorry but @Kaepernick7 needs to learn the fact about police before running his dumbass mouth! He has no clue what they go thru! (sic)”

Stewart ended his tweet with the hashtag #idiot.

More than a year later, when asked by the USA Today what it does if one of its employees threatened to protest during the anthem, Childress threatened that the employee would never have a job.


“Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over,” Childress responded. “I told them anyone who works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people have (given) their lives for it. This is America.”

Petty, a seven-time Cup champion and Wallace’s current car owner, echoed Childress’ remarks, saying “anybody that (doesn't) stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period. If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”

With a garage filled with black pit-crew members, there was little effort to address Kaepernick’s point of protesting in the first place.

Fast forward to the present, following the Floyd incident and everything that has taken place since, hopefully Stewart, Childress and Petty re-examine their previous comments.

There is reason to be somewhat optimistic, though. In addition to Earnhardt Jr. using his platform to discuss the racial issues in this country and how he can better understand them, Dillon did the same by broadcasting an insightful 26-minute conversation he had with Wallace on Instagram Live earlier this week.

Making himself available to the media, Wallace is clearly doing his part to start a dialogue. But if NASCAR wants to live up to the values that it aspires to have, everyone involved in the sport needs to be held accountable.

NASCAR needs to make sure the statements made mean something moving forward and wasn’t just lip service. The sport has to show that it's just not simply following this wave of support of racial injustice for public relations purposes.

We’ll see if the conversations continue as time goes on. One thing is for sure: the sport, given its past, could use more than its only black driver in its top series to keep the conversation going.


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Patrick Bernadeau

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