The following story is based on an email interview with a 23-year-old Black female NASCAR fan who wishes to only be identified by her first name, Bria.
Before 2020, Bria wasn’t aware of having an active aversion to NASCAR.
“It’s like when you ask a kid, ‘How do you know you don’t like something if you’ve never tried it?'” she says. “I guess I had the reasoning, ‘Well, I know I don’t like the Confederate flag ….’ and it was always something I correlated with the sport. Also, watching cars turn laps for hours never appeased me.”
Bria works for a state government in the South. She has an identical twin sister and an older brother, 32.
Her parents have been married for almost 34 years. Her dad is retired, and her mom is nearing retirement.
“We have zero history of following NASCAR,” Bria makes clear (emphasis her own).
But she can pinpoint “the exact date, estimated time and location” her aversion began to dissipate.
It was Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Around 5:45 p.m. CT, she was in her room at home. CNN was “randomly” on TV.
She looked at the screen, where a graphic displayed the breaking news that NASCAR had banned the Confederate flag at all its facilities.
Two days earlier, Bubba Wallace had went on Don Lemon’s CNN show and requested that NASCAR ban the flag.
“I was intrigued,” Bria recalled, “so I ended up searching what channel the race was on and watched a bit of the prerace stuff. I ended up missing Martinsville [Speedway], but I did go and look up race highlights later that night … and looking up rules because I had zero clues on what I was watching.”
The sport’s arrival in her orbit came at a significant moment for Bria.
“Summer 2020 was a rough period for me. It wasn’t just the [COVID-19] pandemic, but also being a Black person, to be blunt,” Bria said. “Banning that flag and seeing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ car in a sport with a predominantly White fan base for some reason gave me an optimistic outlook on how things were going (I by no means believed those two actions would make everything right in the sport or the world. But it leads to a start of something more).
“It is a feeling I can’t explain. I think it was more of the fact I needed something to lean on, to be excited for, to keep me going. Because, to be honest, times got dark for me at a certain point. I just needed something, and that ‘something’ happened to be NASCAR.”
🥺😭 this is everything.
as soon as i can travel again my first trip will be to my first race. https://t.co/aQcu3d11Lt
— 🤎⚜️ (@itsbriaaa) August 3, 2020
Her attempt at becoming a fan was a “journey,” filled with receiving tweets and direct messages attacking her support of the sport and Wallace.
“It got to a point when I wanted to give up on the sport,” Bria says. “It was as if that mindset I always had of NASCAR fans being ‘proud Confederate Southerners’ was true.
“I’m happy I didn’t give up because Twitter showed me that wasn’t true. I’ve come to know a few people who’ve been NASCAR fans their whole life and are nothing like that. It’s only those folks who choose not to accept change who are the problem. After some time, I’ve learned to stop entertaining them.”
As someone who was once turned off to the prospect of watching racecars “turn laps for hours,” Bria has become fond of one certain area of the sport.
“Strategy! I’ve learned a lot over the last year (I still am). Listening to scanners and people explain why things happen has helped me appreciate the sport more and more,” Bria said. “Like how no two tracks are the same. Some tracks you may be able to last until the checkered on older tries, like Dover [International Speedway]. But Phoenix [Raceway], you’ll fade to the back if everyone has new tries.”
It’s not just a Sunday activity for Bria.
She tries to watch the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series when it airs. She didn’t miss an episode of the I AM ATHLETE series on NASCAR that was released last month, and she occasionally listens to the Dale Jr. Download.
“As a new fan, I learned a lot about the drivers and the sport from those interviews,” Bria said.
She plans “to start reading Winning in Reverse by Bill Lester (if I can ever find the physical book in stores).”
(Update, June 14: Shortly after this story was published, Lester got in contact with Bria and sent her a copy of his book)
Bria observed from what she’s seen that the I AM ATHLETE series helped to have a tangible effect on perceptions of NASCAR for some members of the Black community.
“I see comments (on the show’s YouTube page) that say they’ll start to give NASCAR a chance because they see the drivers in a different setting with athletes/personalities they are familiar with,” Bria said. “The thoughts they had about the sport previously [have] maybe changed a bit.”
She also noted a recent partnership between NASCAR and Historically Black Colleges and Universities for NASCAR Heat events.
“I really do think if NASCAR doesn’t get complacent and keeps up with what they are doing now, it can only get better,” Bria said.
She has yet to attend a NASCAR race in person, but Bria hopes to change that later this year with a visit to Talladega Superspeedway in the fall.
“The atmosphere is what I am looking forward to,” Bria says. “I’ve been told it [is] a different feeling watching a race in person than it is at home. I am a huge football fan, so hearing that I know I have to go. It seems loud on television, but I am sure it’s even louder in the grandstands. Also meeting a couple of people is an absolute plus!”
This story is the third in a five-part series that looks back at the events of the summer of 2020 and examines their impact on NASCAR a year later.
Frontstretch will bring you the stories of four Black NASCAR fans who came to the sport as a result of these historic events and what their experience has been in the ensuing 12 months. It will conclude on Friday, June 11, with a look at NASCAR’s efforts to build on the foundation laid in 2020.
Part four will be published Thursday, June 10.
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