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President Trump honors Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 team at White House

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President Donald Trump praised the performance of Martin Truex Jr. and his team, thanked NASCAR Chairman Brian France for his support and lauded the sport’s patriotism in a ceremony Monday at the White House honoring Truex’s 2017 Cup title.

President Trump was accompanied to the ceremony by Truex and Sherry Pollex, Truex’s longtime girlfriend.

President Tump noted that “the entire NASCAR field spent 2017 chasing (No.) 78. I’ll tell you, I’d be watching and they would be chasing you.’’

He later said: “Never giving up is a story of the 78 team and is a story that will forever be told in NASCAR.’’

President Trump acknowledged crew chief Cole Pearn.

“Chief, pretty tough job, right?’’ President Trump said.

President Trump also praised Pollex.

“I also want to take a moment to recognize the amazing Sherry Pollex,’ he said. “She is the love of Martin’s life. As many of you know Sherry has bravely battled ovarian cancer. She is an incredible woman. Sherry, you’re determination in the face of adversity has been an inspiration to millions of Americans who know what you’re going through. … You are SheryStrong and we are praying for you, and we’re deeply honored to have you here today.’’

President Trump spoke about France, who attended the ceremony.

“My good friend Brian France is here,’’ said President Trump, who was endorsed by France at a Feb. 2016 rally in Georgia. “He is doing a fantastic job. I’ve had him for my friend for a long time, Martin, you wouldn’t believe that right? Different sides, different states slightly, but we liked each other right from the beginning.

“Brian, thank you very much for being here. Congratulations on everything that has happened. … Brian has been with us since the beginning like so many others that love NASCAR. He’s been really a supporter right from the beginning. He said, we support Trump and so I want to thank you very much Brian. That was incredible. That meant a lot, thank you.’’

President Trump noted the sport’s patriotism.

“This lively sport reflects our national spirit and our can-do attitude,’’ he said. “At every NASCAR race, you will see thousands of patriotic Americans from the grandstands to the pit stalls proudly waving our flag and roaring with joy at the words ‘Start your engines’

“I will tell you one thing that I know about NASCAR. They do indeed, Brian, stand for the playing of the national anthem. Right? They do indeed. Somebody said ‘Maybe you shouldn’t say that, that will be controversial.’ I said, ‘That’s OK NASCAR is not going to mind it at all,’ right fellas? They don’t mind it at all.’’

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Martin Truex Jr. to visit White House, President Trump on Monday

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The final stop of Martin Truex Jr.‘s championship tour will be Monday on the South Lawn of the White House.

Truex, the defending Cup Series champion, and other members of Furniture Row Racing will meet with President Donald Trump during a ceremony scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET, according to an advisory from NASCAR.

Truex’s visit is the first for a NASCAR champion during the Trump Administration. There was not a White House visit last year for Jimmie Johnson‘s seventh championship.

A Furniture Row Racing spokesman confirmed to NBC Sports that Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, who has taken shots at the president on Twitter, also will attend the ceremony Monday.

Trump and NASCAR have intersected numerous times over the past three years, well before the 45th president of the United States took office.

On Feb. 18, President Trump tweeted an acknowledgment of the Daytona 500.

Last September, Trump tweeted his support of NASCAR drivers standing for the anthem.

NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France endorsed Trump in a Feb. 29, 2016 rally at Valdosta State University in Atlanta, Georgia, one day before the Super Tuesday primary.

Drivers Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Chase Elliott and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott also attended the rally, with both Elliotts speaking briefly in support of Trump. Trump claimed in a tweet that he received the endorsement of NASCAR.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin endorsed Trump at another rally in Concord, North Carolina, a week later.

France later told the AP he was “very surprised” that after his “routine endorsement,” which he considered personal and not on behalf of NASCAR, “my diversity efforts for my whole career would have been called into question.”

In April 2016, France told the AP during the APSE Commissioners Meetings that he “probably shouldn’t have been” surprised by the reaction to the endorsement.

A month before the presidential election, Austin Wayne Self drove a paint scheme dedicated to Trump’s campaign in a Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway . In the Nov. 6 Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Reed Sorenson drove a similar scheme two days before Trump was elected.

In July 2015, NASCAR announced it would no longer hold its Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series award ceremonies at the Trump National Doral near Miami, Florida.

The move was made hours after Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, threatened to boycott the event over “recent and ongoing blatantly bigoted and racist comments from Donald Trump in regards to immigrants of the United States.”

 

Ryan: Anthem controversy reveals how patriotism can take many forms in NASCAR

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What if a race was held in NASCAR’s premier series, and nary a single driver was present and at attention on the grid when the national anthem was played?

Would there be the usual cheers as drivers flipped their dashboard switches, rumbled out of the pits and onto the track for a few hundred miles of fender banging?

There were for more than five decades. That was typically how drivers took part in honoring America at the crescendo of a pageantry-filled prerace – strapped inside their cockpits and waiting as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.

Because within seconds of the anthem ending, engines were starting.

But that run of show changed at Dover International Speedway just more than 16 years ago.

In the first Cup race after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, drivers stood outside their cars with their team members as Tanya Tucker sang the national anthem for a sellout crowd of 140,000, virtually all of whom were waving U.S. flags that had been distributed at the track’s gates.

Given that the sacred ideals about honoring the military and respecting the flag (deeply held truths in NASCAR and among its fans) became the largest point of contention and conversation this week, it’s somewhat astounding to consider that the sport’s heroes once had on their helmets and harnesses during the anthem before it gradually became a standard practice to observe the song while outside their cars.

On Sunday, there will be a five-minute gap between the conclusion of the anthem and the command to start engines at Dover, where it all started on a patriotic Sunday in 2001 that ended with the race winner grabbing an American flag from a team member for a triumphant victory lap with Old Glory flapping around the 1-mile oval.

Just as Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the focal point that day in one of NASCAR’s most memorable moments of the 21st century, so has he also emerged as its most outspoken star in the tumult that followed comments by team owners Richard Childress and Richard Petty before Sunday’s race at New Hampshire. Both intimated they would fire any employees who kneeled during the anthem the way many NFL players did in the wake of President Donald Trump calling on teams to terminate players who kneeled.

On Monday morning, the president tweeted his support of NASCAR. About thirty minutes later, Earnhardt used a quote from JFK to support peaceful protests in what quickly became the most popular of his 12,500 tweets (drawing 150,000 retweets and nearly 400,000 likes).

“I kept seeing a lot of negativity about NASCAR on social media,” Earnhardt said on his podcast in explaining the stance. “It’s just the same tired stigma that we’ve dealt with for many, many years.

“So I didn’t feel like that Richard’s comments and Richard Petty’s comments were the way the entire sport felt. They have the right to their opinion. I just didn’t want anyone speaking for me. I felt like that you could assume that those were my own personal feelings as well. I wanted to make that clear.”

Earnhardt’s points are well taken.

NASCAR waited until Monday afternoon to release a statement (which attempted to thread the needle of placating its old-guard supporters’ love for anthem heritage while noting “the right to peacefully express one’s opinion” in a nod to a more diverse audience it seeks to build). That created a vacuum of leadership on a national controversy that was filled by two Hall of Famers associated with several of the greatest championships, moments and triumphs in stock-car history.

Many outside NASCAR presumed that Childress and Petty spoke with a monolithic certitude for the thousands who work in the country’s most popular racing series.

But there isn’t a consensus industry opinion on how anthem protesters would be handled.

There are many who would disagree with the beliefs of Childress and Petty (namely, the majority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports).

Of course, there are many who would agree with them as well, reflecting stock-car racing’s longstanding leanings and strongly held feelings of allegiance and faith.

Few sports leagues wrap themselves in God and country as much as NASCAR. Its deep roots in the Bible Belt are evident in the invocation delivered before every race, just before the anthem – a 1-2 combination of social conservatism and flag-waving patriotism that is unique in professional sports and intrinsic to the fabric of stock-car racing.

It’s why Brad Keselowski used Twitter to take issue with those who took a knee but also to reaffirm that his support of the anthem didn’t signify a lack of respect for civil disobedience. As someone who has raised millions to help wounded veterans and likely would have joined the armed services if he hadn’t pursued a racing career, the Team Penske driver was speaking from the heart.

But so was Earnhardt, who has his own patriotic bona fides (the No. 88 Chevrolet once carried National Guard sponsorship, and the Navy backed his Xfinity cars).

“I stand for the flag during the national anthem,” he said. “Always have, always will. We have an incredibly large military presence at our races. We go above and beyond to show our patriotism and what it means to be Americans and how proud we are of that and how proud we are of the flag and what it stands for.

“No surprise to me everyone at (New Hampshire) stood and addressed the flag during the anthem, which I think will continue. But I also understand that the man next to me, if he wants to do something different, that’s his right. I might not agree with everything somebody does, but it’s their right to have that opportunity to do that. I can’t take that away from them, and I don’t want them taking it away from me.’’

Free speech is an inalienable right, but it also is accompanied by consequences – and not just for those who choose to protest.

As business owners well within their rights to hire and fire personnel while weighing how their actions can impacts a team’s image, Childress and Petty are entitled to their opinions and to express them, and there are many fans who probably feel better about hearing them voiced.

But there are repercussions to classifying actions that you view as disrespectful with the disrespect of implying those who chose that tack should be humiliatingly stripped of employment or citizenship.

At best, it’s fodder for clickbait headline hyperbole. At worst, it negatively affects how NASCAR is perceived in the wake of protests that began because former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick wanted to raise awareness about minority oppression and police brutality.

This puts a new spotlight on NASCAR’s long slog toward diversifying, which hasn’t come easy (as detailed in the struggles of Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, the first black driver to win in Cup, and mentioned in a recent interview by Bill Lester, the first black driver to run Xfinity and one of four in Cup). There have been Twitter memes about the Confederate flag (which remains a presence in racetrack campgrounds despite NASCAR’s efforts to eradicate its presence), stern rebukes from coaches in other sports and late night talk show jokes about the lack of black drivers in NASCAR.

Meanwhile, NASCAR is making incremental progress in becoming more of an inclusionary and welcoming league. It needs and wants to be that if it intends to stem recent audience erosion by becoming more demographically reflective of a multicultural and multiracial America.

Its Drive for Diversity program, which is in its 14th season, has a hit-and-miss record, but graduate Darrell Wallace Jr. recently became the first black driver to race Cup in more than a decade. Mexico’s Daniel Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity champion and another product of the D4D program, became the first foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR title. There are more black pit crew members than at any point in NASCAR’s 69-year history.

Kyle Larson, the only Asian-American to race full time in Cup, has a legitimate chance to win the championship.

Those are realities – just as it is that drivers weren’t outside their cars more often than not in NASCAR history when the anthem has been played.

Those, of course, weren’t signs of disrespect. Patriotism can be expressed in many forms, and the enthusiastic and overt celebration of its cherished spectacle on race days is an indelible and laudable attraction of NASCAR.

What the industry learned this week is that publicly judging the manner of expression can be fraught with its own debates about respecting the flag.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. explains his actions, comments in recent days

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. says that “I care about the way the sport looks’’ and it is that passion that led him to be vocal on a multitude of issues recently.

Earnhardt discussed his actions the past week, including his tweet about peaceful protests that cited former President John F. Kennedy, during his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast.

Earnhardt’s tweet came after a weekend of controversy about NFL players protesting during the national anthem that was stirred when President Donald Trump said such players should be fired.

Before the NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, car owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress were vocal in their feelings of what they’d do if anyone on their teams kneeled during the anthem.

Earnhardt said in his podcast that he felt he needed to speak up.

“I kept seeing a lot of negativity about NASCAR on social media,’’ he said on his podcast. “It’s just the same tired stigma that we’ve dealt with for many, many years. So, I didn’t feel like that Richard’s comments and Richard Petty’s comments were the way the entire sport felt. I think that Richard was talking for himself and through North Carolina law they have the right to do the things that they would do.

“They have the right to their opinion. I just didn’t want anyone speaking for me. I felt like that you could assume that those were my own personal feelings as well. I wanted to make that clear.

“With that said, I stand for the flag during the national anthem, always have, always will. We have an incredibly large military presence at our races. We go above and beyond to show our patriotism and what it means to be Americans and how proud we are of that and how proud we are of the flag and what it stands for.

“No surprise to me everyone at the track stood and addressed the flag during the anthem, which I think will continue. But I also understand that the man next to me, if he wants to do something different, that’s his right. I might not agree with everything somebody does, but it’s their right to have that opportunity to do that. I can’t take that away from them, and I don’t want them taking it away from me.’’

Earnhardt addressed many other topics on the podcast.

— He discussed the penalty after the Chicagoland race to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott and the role social media might have played in that.

— He talked about his comments about burnouts

— He discussed a tweet he published last Saturday that included a cuss word and his thoughts about what he should have done in reaction to Joey Logano’s penalty of having to sit in his car for all of the final practice session on pit road without getting on the track.

— He discussed drivers who bring sponsors to rides.

— He also said where he sees himself in five to 10 years. 

You can listen to Earnhardt’s podcast, the Dale Jr. Download, here.

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North Carolina provides sports teams ability to fire employees who kneel during anthem

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If NASCAR team owners Richard Childress, Richard Petty or any others wanted to fire an employee for kneeling during the national anthem, could they?

Yes.

North Carolina, home to an NFL team, NBA team, NHL team and nearly all the NASCAR teams in the Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series, is an Employment-at-Will state.

That means that an employer can fire an employee for whatever they wanted as long as no specific law forbids the action and as long as the firing is not based on age, race, sex, religion, national origin, color, disability or pregnancy.

“You can fire for any reason, good reason or bad reason, that doesn’t violate the law,’’ Dan Bowling, senior lecturing fellow, Duke University Law School, told NBC Sports.

“Someone taking a stance on a controversial political issue like kneeling at the anthem, absent any sort of employment contract addressing something like that … the employer would be in their right to fire them.’’

What about freedom of speech?

“There is no constitution right when we’re talking about expression because you’re talking about a private entity,’’ he said.

Childress and Petty were outspoken when asked before Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway if an employee kneeled for the anthem as many NFL players did.

If someone kneeled on his team, Childress said that person would “get … a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.’’

Petty told USA Today and The Associated Press: “Anybody that don’t stand up for (the anthem) ought to be out of the country. Period. If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”

Asked if a protestor would be fired, Petty said: “You’re right.’’

Andrew Murstein, majority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports told ESPN.com that he would not fire an employee for such an act.

“I would sit down with them and say it’s the wrong thing to do that, and many people, including myself, view it as an affront to our great country,” Murstein told ESPN in a text message. “If there is disenchantment towards the president or a few bad law enforcement officers, don’t have it cross over to all that is still good and right about our country.”

NASCAR issued a statement Monday that reinforced the idea of peaceful expressions.

“Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. used a quote from former President John F. Kennedy on peaceful protests that has been retweeted more than any other tweet he’s had.

Kneeling during the anthem started a year ago in the NFL with former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who protested social injustices.

The issue gained attention last Friday when President Donald Trump said in a speech in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ Trump tweeted about the subject during the weekend and praised NASCAR on Monday for standing for the anthem.

Not everyone has responded as favorably. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, one of only five coaches in NBA history with five or more championships, has been a critic of President Trump.

During the Spurs’ media day on Monday, Popovich addressed Trump’s comments and the reaction of Childress and Petty.

“I just heard a comment this morning from a NASCAR owner and from Mr. Petty that just blew me away,’’ Popovich said. “Just blew me away. Where (Childress) described the fact that he would get the Greyhound bus tickets ready for them to leave and they would be fired. And Mr. Petty, who said people that act the way we saw on Sunday, they should leave the country.

“That’s where I live. I had no idea that I lived in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing.’’

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