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GREGORY COLUMN: NASCAR drivers speak out on racial injustice

GREGORY COLUMN: NASCAR drivers speak out on racial injustice

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For the past two weeks, NASCAR has offered shelter in a stormy world.

Thanks to the teamwork and willpower of officials, drivers and crew members, the sport has set an example for all Americans in the proper use of face masks and the importance of social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In terms of competition, Sunday’s Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway featured enough action and controversy to keep fans buzzing for weeks. Of course, the only negative was the lack of spectators.

While the Bristol version of NASCAR earned rave reviews the past two nights with the Cup and Xfinity doubleheader, one dark cloud could not be avoided.

As the outcry against racial injustice and police brutality spreads around the country, a variety of NASCAR regulars have joined with other pro athletes and public figures to express support of the protesters.

Cup Series regular Ty Dillon was the first driver to speak out Sunday via a lengthy Instagram post. Cup drivers Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace soon joined in. Wallace is the lone African American driver in the sport.

Drivers Ryan Blaney and Parker Kligerman entered the fray Monday, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. commended Reddick and Dillon for speaking out.

NASCAR could certainly use a boost to its long-sputtering Drive for Diversity efforts, especially after the racist remark uttered by former Cup regular Kyle Larson during a virtual race on April 12.

According to Cup Series team owner Brad Daugherty, Larson’s use of the N-word “set the sport back another decade.”

The subject of race in sports has long been the elephant in the room.

While NASCAR has a conservative following in terms of politics, there are African American media members, crewmen and drivers at all levels.

And yes, there are African American NASCAR fans.

Simple gestures of compassion, unity and understanding are important during times of strife.

That’s why Dillon deserves credit for daring to take the lead on a difficult topic.

Many athletes, including African Americans, have opted to remain silent and protect their brand.

Critics of NASCAR are quick to pounce on every misstep. We’ve all heard the refrains of “boring races”, “empty seats” and “bland drivers.”

The NASCAR defenders then strike back by circling the wagons and dismissing even well-crafted suggestions for progress.

As leaders of other sport leagues struggle with ways to safely resume their games in the age of COVID-19, NASCAR and its drivers have a golden opportunity to set another example for all Americans in the long and painful search for racial justice.

Will NASCAR offer more shelter in the storm? The country is watching and listening.

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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