NASCAR President Steve Phelps says the sport continues “this journey toward getting better” and “bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the race track or you are watching on television.”
Phelps made the comments Saturday night on NASCAR America on NBCSN before the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
He spoke after a remarkable week in sports that saw athletes halt play to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“For us it really is getting back to this, what’s action can we take?” Phelps said on NBCSN. “I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down … this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment, whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome.”
Asked about the events of this week in sports, Phelps said:
“Listen, the events of this week are difficult for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds what needs to happen, what needs to change.
“I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega.”
Before the June 7 Cup race at Atlanta began, the cars were stopped on the frontstretch. Pit crews stood on the wall behind the pit boxes. Phelps then addressed competitors and fans.
“Those watching at home, thank you for your time,” Phelps said. “Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard. 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.”
“The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection to acknowledge we must do better as a sport and join us as we may now pause and … listen.”
"We want to have this great sport open to as many people as we can."@NASCAR president @StevePhelps spoke with @KristaVoda and @BradDaugherty43 on the work they've done to fight racial inequality. pic.twitter.com/JxTieGaKmP
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) August 29, 2020
Here are Phelps’ full comments in his NBCSN interview Saturday
Krista Voda: We are joined now by the president of NASCAR, Steve Phelps. It is never easy to see our country have divided. What are your observations from the sports world this week and what’s the sentiment inside the NASCAR community?
Steve Phelps: Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, Krista. It’s a pleasure to be with you and Brad. Listen, the events of this week are difficult, for sure. The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented, with games being canceled and athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds, what needs to happen, what needs to change. I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta, you know, kind of that moment of listening that we had as a sport in Atlanta and then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that, you know, we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack, which is something that we have done. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega, which, you know, for all of us that have been in this sport a long time, as you, Brad, and Krista, have been, just seeing that sense of community and that sense of family that exists at NASCAR, watching the support of Bubba – I just thought it was extraordinary.
Brad Daugherty: Yeah, it was absolutely remarkable. And Steve, as you go back to June, I mean, going forward, coming forward to now, the seismic shift in all of our cultural ideologies has changed dramatically. And at the forefront of that has been pro sports figures and pro sports teams. You talk about Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA, most notably, but also in the origin of all this was NASCAR and you stood behind a pretty defiant stance and took a really big chance with NASCAR, being one of the leaders, speaking out and taking a stand against social injustices. Why is now the right time for NASCAR?
Phelps: Well, you know what, Brad, that’s a really good question. You know, for us, and again, I’ll go back to June, it was a moment in time in this country that it appeared like everyone really was interested in understanding what was happening. An opportunity for us to listen. That’s where we were as a sport. You know, Bubba, who I think we would all suggest that he’s shown nothing but class and courage in this whole thing and he always has kept it up here, never has gone down here. It’s all about love, understanding, welcoming people to this sport and that’s really what we’re about. And I think that for us at this moment in time, where we were in June, was something that was important for our sport. We want to have this great sport open to as many people as we can. And the events that happened in June really showcased who our sport was, so, I was super proud of it. I know that the two of you have, I’ve had conversations with you about this, so I think it was, again, time and place, that was our time. There’s still work that needs to be done, for sure, and since June, you know, we’ve done a lot of listening with our own employees, with our industry broadly, with our many partners, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Geico and many, many others about the role that sports can play, the role that our athletes can play and the roles, frankly, that our broadcast sponsors and our sponsors can play in what’s going on in our sport.
Voda: You bring up some great points, I think we’re all just trying to be better human beings overall. What is the biggest, I guess, takeaway or learning through all of the conversations and impact that you’ve had, you know, even dating back just to June?
Phelps: Yeah, listen, there’s so many, Krista, and they just kind of all blur together. But for us, it really is getting back to this, what actions can we take? I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless. And so, for us, it’s continuing down this continuum of this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome. And that’s really, you know, we say it a lot, but I think our sport does that better than any other, frankly, in terms of this sense of family and this sense of community that exists.
Daugherty: Steve, we get through February, the pandemic hits, everyone’s scrambling, trying to figure out, especially in the sports leagues how they’re going to get their seasons done or in. Here we are, we’re coming to the end of the season tonight, the regular season. How in the world did you guys come up with this ending at Daytona? You’ve hit it out of the park, my friend. This is going to be epic. I want to know a little bit, I’ve known you a long time, I want to know about the thinking that went into this, because this is going to be an epic night for the playoffs to begin after this.
Phelps: Well, I think you go back, Brad, just getting back to racing as we did on May 17th in Darlington, first without fans and then with fans. You know, here tonight, we’re going to have over 20,000 people, which is both, you know, an extraordinary accomplishment, you know, all the protocols that are in place, both for our competitors and our fans, but here we are, race 26 of the regular season. This has been circled on my calendar since the schedule came out last year and you just think about, you know, even at the time, switching from the July 4th date and frankly, we were heavily criticized for doing that and bringing it to tonight, this is why we’ve done it. You think, DJ. said, if you have eight people — there are actually 17 individuals, drivers that could get in tonight that are in the top 30 that can win their way in or point their way in. It’s going to be — not that Daytona’s not always a wild ride, it’s going to be a wild ride.
Voda: Well, thank you, Steve. We appreciate both your time and your transparency on these topics and we’re going to see Steve again later in the show. He’s going to present Kevin Harvick with the award for regular season supremacy.