Nascar acknowledges it must “do better” on racial issues

Nascar driver Bubba Wallace wears a "I Can't Breath - Black Lives Matter" T-shirt (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Nascar prior to its June 6 Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway vowed to improve its response to racial injustice in the wake of the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd while in police custody.

The race’s 40 cars all stopped during warm-up laps and listened to an address from Nascar president Steve Phelps over their radio sets, while the pit crews for those 40 cars stood on the wall in front of their pit boxes.

“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,” Phelps said. “The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers…and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection, and to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport, and join us as we now pause and take a moment to listen.”

Phelps’ comments were followed by a 30-second moment of slience.

Bubba Wallace, the lone African-American driver on Nascar’s top series, wore a black t-shirt underneath his racing suit reading “I Can’t Breathe,” referencing the words of Floyd before his May 25 death. That death has helped spark nationwide protests and has resulted in criminal charges for the four Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officers who detained him.

Nascar’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement is particularly noteworthy given the motorsports property’s historic roots in the US Southeast, its long-held reputation as a largely white sport, and its former embrace of Confederate symbols. 

Even before the death of Floyd, though, Nascar has sought to be much more responsive to racial issues. It has created several diversity programs, and in April quickly moved to ban driver Kyle Larson for using a racial slur during an iRacing event.

Few other drivers, however, publicly condemned Larson, and Wallace was left largely alone to comment, saying it was “too easy” for Larson to use the language he did. This time, several drivers including Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski recorded a video posted on social media pledging to listen and learn from the ongoing protests.