Imagine going to the movie theater and, in the middle of the movie, the projectionist cuts off the film and puts on a Hillary Clinton speech.
There are liberal race fans too. There are even liberal racecar drivers. And those liberal race fans might feel a little uncomfortable, if not completely unwelcome, when they attend races this fall as a growing number of racers and racetracks have decided to use their cars and venues to promote Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.
For spectators, going to a racetrack is much like going to a baseball game or a movie theater. It is an escape from the everyday world. It is a chance to have fun for a few hours with friends and family. It is a time to get away from the everyday discussions of terrorism, immigration and an election that has come down to the two most unpopular presidential candidates in American history.
Last summer, the nation engaged in a debate over whether the confederate battle flag still had a place in public. As this debate raged in politics, racecar drivers decided to make a political statement by putting confederate flags on the hoods of their cars and flying them atop their trailers. While the confederate flag may be synonymous with stock car racing, racers and racetracks entered the political arena while other sports look to stay out of it.
Earlier this year, the sport was thrust into the political spotlight when NASCAR CEO Brian France publicly endorsed Donald Trump. That endorsement was followed up by a statement from Trump’s campaign announcing that NASCAR, as a whole, endorsed Donald Trump. A few weeks later, race fans at Texas Motor Speedway were gifted with the wisdom of Phil Robertson during the invocation of a NASCAR race.
Now, race fans at short tracks across America are watching as the Trump 2016 Chevrolet passes the Make America Great Again Ford while a track announcer talks about how Trump is the lord and savior of America.
Meanwhile, when football season kicks off on September 8th, fans of that sport will watch the Cam Newton score touchdowns (maybe?) against the Denver Broncos. The players will focus on the game and not making political statements. The commentators will call the game, not give political speeches.
Well, Bob Costas might talk about how guns should be outlawed instead of talking about football highlights – and the rant would be met with outrage.
“But, Andy, the majority of race fans are Donald Trump supporters?”
What difference does it make? Is a paying race fan’s money less important to the sport because they’re a Democrat? Because, if that fan, and many others, elect not to come back because the competitors or the race promoters have decided to be an arena of politics instead of an arena of racing.
Let’s go back to my original scenario.
Would anyone be okay with a Hillary Clinton ad being shown in the middle of the new Star Wars movie they just paid $15 to see, because the projectionist wants you to vote for her?
Political correctness, which participants in this sport seem to hate, is not always a bad thing. That means, sometimes staying out of the political arena and just having a good time. Because, if the fans in the stands want three hours of politics, they can turn on Fox News Channel or MSNBC instead.
Racers have every right to put pro-Trump and pro-Clinton ads on their cars. Racetracks have every right to put Trump or Clinton banners up around their speedway. They even have the right to remove their sponsors decals to give political candidates free advertising – though their sponsors might frown on that. I’m not saying they don’t have that right.
But, consider this.
This is a sport that is supposed to be fun, like all sports. This is an escape from the everyday world, for everyone involved. This is a sport that wants to be inclusive for everyone. This is a sport that wants more people in the stands, especially given the current state of many short tracks across America.
Are your political allegiances really worth running off other people?
What if one of your fans in the stands was someone who was afraid they will be forced to leave the country if Donald Trump is elected? Or someone who is afraid their husband, fighting in a warzone somewhere, will be abandoned and left for dead during a terrorist attack if Hillary Clinton is elected?
We all have political beliefs. We all express them. We all also want to get away from all of this sometimes. And a racetrack is a getaway. Let’s make racing fun again and seek to entertain the fans with great racing, not make political endorsements.
Or, we can turn racetracks into an arena for politics and risk running off paying fans, fans who themselves keep the sport going.