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Dropping the Hammer: NASCAR Says ‘No’ to Being Part of Voting Rights Debate

On June 7, 2020 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps made one of the most important public statements ever made by a NASCAR official, especially for one not named France.

With a field of cars sitting in front of empty grandstands due to an international pandemic and some 13 days after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, Phelps keyed up a radio, speaking both to the NASCAR community and a national TV audience.

“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,” Phelps said. “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.”

Without explicitly saying it, Phelps declared a simple fact: “Black Lives Matter.”*

On Sunday, April 26,  Phelps made a statement that added an asterisk to his comments from 10 months earlier, specifically the part about listening to “demands for change.”

The comments he made came weeks after the state of Georgia passed a slew of measures to restrict voting access, with the brunt of it impacting areas of the state with largely Black communities. These measures include the following:

  • It is now illegal for election officials to mail out absentee ballot applications to voters.
  • A dramatic reduction in ballot drop boxes in the Atlanta metropolitan area and times when voters would have access to them.
  • Restructured early voting in a way to where it would, according to the New York Times, be “up to the discretion of the local registrar” on whether or not to open polls on Sundays, which would impact “Souls to the Polls” programs put together by Black churches.

There are many more oppressive rules in the law. But maybe you’ve heard about the one that criminalizes the simple act of giving food or water to anyone waiting in line to vote.

Yes, it’s now a crime in Georgia to give people food and water while they wait in line to cast their vote. Now, I’ve been able to vote in three presidential elections and a few midterms. I’ve luckily never experienced an issue with having to wait more than a few minutes to vote. But in the Atlanta area, whether by circumstance or design, long waits to vote in non-White communities are common.

All these changes are the state’s Republican-controlled government delivering a punitive response to losing a presidential election and two U.S. Senate races, largely due to the turnout of Black voters.

The outcry from the measure was far-reaching. Within days of the law passing, Major League Baseball pulled its annual All-Star Game from Atlanta and relocated it to Denver, Colo.

That game would have taken place on July 13.

Two days before that? The NASCAR Cup Series holds its second race of the year at Atlanta, the track where Phelps, the public face of NASCAR’s leadership, planted its flag in the corner of standing “against racism and racial injustice.”

On Sunday, Phelps was asked for the first time about if NASCAR would do anything regarding strict voting laws in states in which it competes.

We’re going to be a sport that is bold, we’re going to be a sport that is of action in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion space, and a subset of that being social justice,” Phelps said. “But we need to do it [in a way] that’s really consistent with our DNA, consistent with what’s authentic to our sport.

I don’t think that’s an area [voting rights] that we are going to lean in. I think that we can probably do a better job pushing the diversity, equity, inclusion and some of the social justice issues in places that are not kind of in that particular area. [It] doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Our whole message is going to be about not dividing. Ours is going to be [about] bringing together. It’s always going to be about welcoming and being inclusive as a sport, whether you’re at our facility or you’re participating in some other fashion or engaging in some other way.

“As of now, the answer would be no.”

Not to be the “dictionary definition” guy, but here’s the dictionary definition of “equity”: the quality of being fair and impartial.

When it comes to equity and social justice, NASCAR wants to be a “bold” sports league.

That’s great!

NASCAR banned the Confederate battle flag last summer, listening to the outcry from people in the sport like Bubba Wallace.

About time! It should have been done years ago. What’s it gotten NASCAR? Unprecedented (compared to its recent history) media attention. International icons Michael Jordan and Pitbull are now team owners. Wallace and 23XI Racing will be the subject of a forthcoming Netflix documentary series.

Most importantly, NASCAR gave itself a foothold in building its fan base among large swaths of the country (and the world) that previously wouldn’t give it the time of day.

“I just think we are in a different place than we were,” Phelps said Sunday. “That part is fantastic. I think we were in a situation where the sport was growing in 2019, our ratings were growing, our ticket sales were coming back nicely, but until the banning of that flag, it was really about just continuing to be where we were with the same group of people.

“I think the thing that’s most exciting for me is people understanding the NASCAR community in the sense of family and community that exists as part of NASCAR. I don’t think people saw that before.”

NASCAR is making the effort of building relationships with other social groups/projects, including the Urban Youth Racing School, the Trevor Project (a non-profit focused on suicide prevention efforts among the LGBTQ community), the Women’s Sports Foundation,  UnidosUS and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Wallace recently said he’s “proud of the efforts” NASCAR has made in “continuing to try to show that we are as inclusive as any other sport and that we want everybody to come out. And so, showing those efforts is big and we can’t stop, we’re not stopping. We’re not letting off the gas or anything. We’re continuing to go.”

READ
Bubba Wallace on Adam Toledo & the 'Never-Ending Battle'

Look, NASCAR has pissed off its fair share of people – including a former team owner – with its efforts in the last year and the attention Wallace has received. Yet essentially the same number of people – or in the case of Sunday at Talladega, more – are tuning in to watch races as they were before 2020.

What NASCAR is doing is working.

But voting access?

That’s a bridge too far? Or is NASCAR afraid of angering the state governments that give it tax breaks, which happened with Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola in Georgia?

People can march all they want and make as many demands as they want of people in power.

None of that means much of anything, though, if the people petitioning the government for “change,” like Phelps described at Atlanta, have their ability to take part in democracy severely constricted because one political party decided to change the rules of the voting game instead of making their platform more palatable.

There’s an easy solution NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc., can make to play a positive role in this debate.

You don’t have to be MLB. No one is demanding you move races from Georgia, Texas or Florida.

But you can put an effort toward showing you want your fans – no matter their background or political affiliation – to have equitable access to the ballot box.

Last year, like many basketball and football arenas, Texas Motor Speedway was used as a polling place for the fall election.

This year, take up action on the back-end of democracy. Use races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Daytona International Speedway or any track that falls under your umbrella as voter registration drives.

Simply getting Americans registered to vote, something guaranteed to them by the Constitution, shouldn’t be viewed as a political threat. If NASCAR wants to be a sport dedicated to social justice and “bringing together” people, voter access is a bizarre line to draw in the sand after 10 months of progress.

Just remember, if Atlanta or Daytona were to be used as polling places in 2022, you wouldn’t be able to have a photo-op of you giving water to voters.

That’s now a crime.

* To anyone who read the above sentence and thought “all lives matter,” if you saw a neighbor’s house on fire, would you dismissively mutter “all houses matter” before retreating into your own house? Or would you try to help your neighbor stop the fire and, if you’re really feeling nice, chip in to craft a more structurally sound home?

and check out and subscribe his show “Dropping The Hammer with Daniel McFadin” on YouTube and in podcast form.

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22 thoughts on “Dropping the Hammer: NASCAR Says ‘No’ to Being Part of Voting Rights Debate”

  1. ok i live in ga….it’s simple in my mind…..you have to have id to purchase alcohol, take a flight, travel by train, purchase cigarettes, decongestant and prescription drugs. the state has even made it that if you can’t get a driver’s license, you can get a state id free. however this leads to the fact that you become “documented”.

    i’m fine with not having 6 weeks of early voting. when i requested my absentee, i put my drivers license number on the application and they sent me my ballot.

    so tired of the nanny state. get over it, be adult and stop whinning.

    i’m sure old bubba will have something to say when they come back to race in atlanta in july.

  2. II think it’s understandable for NASCAR to try and bring in a more inclusive group of followers, after all the demographics are definitely changing. But where do they draw the line? What is actual change, and what is lip service?
    I suspect that we will find out by the end of the year have they been successful. Personally I have my doubts, a lot of noise but not a lot of change. But we will see.

  3. It is not illegal to give water to voters. Just for officials with a specific campaign to give water. Stop reading bull*** and actually try to learn. The new law is great and does not negatively affect black voters.
    Also, your point about NASCAR’s ratings going up is pretty much a joke. Before the delay to Sunday Martinsville had 1.3m viewers, if the race had been run that night it would be the lowest for a non Monday race in history, and several other races are declining steeply as well. Vegas and Phoenix are down considerably since last year, and the supposed boost from liberals starting to get into the sport because of Bubba hasn’t happened. The truth is most of them have no life outside of spamming SJW hashtags on Twitter for their 100 followers. It is sad that NASCAR has made such terrible decision making and the sport will likely be on its deathbed a few years from now.

  4. Did this writer actually read the Georgia election law or is he spewing democratic talking points? I’m beginning to think the later.

    • That was my first thought when he tried to lay out how awful this law is. He must of gotten his talking points from CNN, because he certainly didn’t read what the actual law is. Nascar actually did the right thing this time by staying out of it. Maybe they learned from MLB. No sports organization (team or management) should get involved in politics. Period. Why? Because you end up ticking off half your fan base. Sports is supposed to be a place to get away from all this garbage. Let’s keep it that way.

  5. Hey McFadin,
    Did you actually read the Georgia bill? Obviously not! Take your weenie little social justice rant to some “woke” website.

  6. Daniel, you are sadly misinformed about the provisions of the new Georgia election laws. For one, it is still legal for poll workers to provide water to voters in line. It is not legal for political campaigns to breach the no campaigning line to give voters drinks and snacks. Big difference! It would take a whole ‘nother column to correct the rest of your misconceptions, but with all of the new provisions, Georgia’s election laws are still less restrictive than states like, for example, Delaware. You might try widening your reading to include more diverse sources of information than just the New York Times and Washington Post.

    I applaud NASCAR for staying out of this controversy and concentrating on expanding opportunities in the sport, which is where they can do the most good.

  7. I’d use the fire as a teaching moment with my neighbor. I’d point out to him that it was obvious that his house was going to go up in flames, because he took no personal responsibility for its care and maintenance – ever after many pointed out he was failing miserably. His father never taught him anything about fire safety, because he disappeared before he was even born. But he didn’t care – he was safe knowing he could blame the fire on others, and that a magic check would show up in the mail to bail him out. Thus, he was free to get back to fathering nine kids and working on his hip-hop career.

    • No, no, no, no, no. We are supposed to make everything right for those who don’t do the things they are supposed to. You didn’t pay pay attention at school? no problem… when you aren’t qualified for a job we’ll make it right, here is a monthly check or worse a job for which you are not qualified (at the expense of someone who is). Have unplanned children when you knew you couldn’t afford them? no problem… here is a monthly check to make everything OK. You don’t want to work? no problem… here is a monthly check. Not enough inner city kids passing math? no problem.. we’ll just lower the standards.

      For some reason today’s left have abandoned the concept of personal responsibility. Those who don’t do the things they are supposed to do should suffer the consequences not be accommodated. Rewarding bad behavior just results in more bad behavior. I think it’s hilarious how California has lost a congressional seat. Enough people who do the right thing have finally gotten sick of propping up a bunch of people who don’t do the right thing and have moved to other states.
      FYI. If I were going anywhere that might have a long line and thought I couldn’t make it without water, I’d take my own bottle. Personal responsibility.

  8. Just like the rest of the liberal media you don’t tell the truth about the Georgia election laws. You lost all credibility when you used the New York Times as an accurate source of information. Do some research and let’s deal in facts, not liberal media spin.

  9. Are you really stupid enough to believe the Democratic party’s line of manure? You must be angling for a job at ESPN (where Ryan McGee couldn’t wait to lie and demonize NASCAR over the Bubba Wallace Talladega incident only to be proven an idiot 24 hours later)

  10. Maybe if McFadin really called about Black people, he would note the defund the police campaign has massively increased the murder rate in Atlanta and other large cities; mainly run by Democrats. More dead Black people…along with White, and Asian. NLM-No Lives Matter to McFadin

  11. Graphic by James Crow? Is that what passes for woke humor?
    I thought the column a few weeks back about climate change influencing the NASCAR schedule was a low point. Obviously the race to the bottom is still in progress after this hit job.

  12. Perhaps if the party that lost the Presidential race in their state as well as having two senators elected from the opposing party shortly thereafter hadn’t rushed to change the rules regarding voting they wouldn’t have gotten the reaction they did.
    But its not my state and I dont really care. But it is interesting to watch.

  13. The only reason for NASCAR not supporting voting rights is that they fear alienating their base, which is clearly shown by the comments here. The GOP is scared out of their minds of more minorities voting and they will do anything to shut that down. And NASCAR is a GOP pawn because so many of its core fans are staunchly far-right, including 90% of FS readers. Only right now, “far right” is pretty much synonymous with racist.

  14. This mcfadden fellow is obviously a weak liberal who thinks he is intellectually superior to race fans. I’m sure he hates the fact that he was born white male. Your article is so full of lies/half truths, it’s nauseating. Stop attempting to report on motorsports.

  15. It’s funny that you folks think NASCAR cares about you. NASCAR cares about its money, which it makes in partnership with it’s biggest track owner who owns the tracks in GA and TX, where it has announced new major races. So, no, they will not be cancelling any races in TX or GA even if fans got together and boycotted them, as they have TV obligations and revenue to fall back on. So keep typing your racist comments thinking that NASCAR is your partner in keeping the sport white.

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