Did NASCAR make the right call on ‘Let’s go Brandon’?

NASCAR rejected Brandon Brown’s deal with LGBcoin in an attempt to distance itself from the politically charged “Let’s go Brandon” chant.

On Wednesday, NASCAR announced that Xfinity Series driver Brandon Brown and his Brandonbilt Motorsports team could not proceed with their sponsorship deal with LGBcoin. The essentially valueless meme cryptocurrency was introduced in November, shortly after “Let’s go Brandon” became a conservative rallying cry.

It all started when NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast was interviewing Brown after his first series win at Talladega Superspeedway in early October when the crowd close by broke into a NSFW anti-Joe Biden chant.

Stavast told viewers that the chants of “F— Joe Biden” were actually a message of support for Brown (“Let’s go Brandon”), and right-wing Americans began using “Let’s go Brandon” on t-shirts, signs, and even a chain of stores. It even showed up on the masks of some Republican members of Congress.

NASCAR is right to keep this particular bit of messaging out of the sport.

There’s no denying that NASCAR’s drivers and fans lean further right than those of most other sports and the American public in general. In fact, in an anonymous 2007 Sports Illustrated survey, exactly zero drivers admitted to being registered Democrats.

The anti-Biden chant had become common at college football games in the south and midwest, so it wasn’t surprising to hear it at a NASCAR event in Alabama; Talladega County has voted for the Republican candidate in the last six Presidential elections. And NASCAR’s anti-government origins align with traditional conservative values.

How much Junior Johnson and Benny Parsons have in common with modern Republicanism is open for debate, but NASCAR has to allow sponsors, teams, and drivers the same freedoms of political expression every American enjoys.

But Jim France and company are also stewards of stock car racing and all the cultural influence it carries, and so they have a responsibility to move forward with the times.

They did so in 2020 by banning Confederate imagery and allowing Bubba Wallace’s “Black Lives Matter” paint scheme to run at Martinsville Speedway. And while right-leaning NASCAR fans may point to these decisions as favoring the left, in truth they were made to favor equality and justice.

To ban any political messaging altogether would be downright un-American and would have Lee Petty doing donuts in his grave.

But to allow vulgar and hateful messages to take over would be destructive to the sport and the nation. And to allow Brown’s name to be turned into a political call to arms is a massive disservice to both him and Stavast, who should be given some kind of special broadcast Emmy for her quick on-air thinking and the massive waves of misunderstanding that have followed.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps later stated, “I feel for Brandon…unfortunately it speaks to the state of where we are as a country. We do not want to associate ourselves with politics, the left or the right.”

Brown told the New York Times he also had “zero desire to be involved in politics” but in a Newsweek opinion article pledged to “speak about issues I am passionate about, or the problems we face together as Americans” and “to spotlight issues that are important to me and to millions of Americans across the country.”

That doesn’t sound at all like someone who has “zero desire to be involved in politics”. And I am all for athletes in any sport taking whatever political stand they feel is true to their heart and using their platform to advance their cause(s).

By all means, allow Wallace’s BLM car and Tim Viens’ pro-Trump paint schemes, but keeping racist and vulgar garbage off the cars and airwaves and out of the grandstands and infields should be a priority. And while “Let’s go Brandon” lands in a one-off gray area, it’s become too fraught with hostility to have an officially sanctioned place in NASCAR.

NASCAR has long been regarded as the ugly cousin of American sports, and the confederate flags and mind-blowing lack of diversity among drivers have contributed greatly towards that image. Allowing stock car racing to become so closely aligned with a sentiment like the one behind “Let’s go Brandon” certainly won’t help any.

With viewership falling, maybe France and Phelps are looking to move NASCAR closer to the center stripe of the political road. And if that is truly the case and the pro-Trump anti-Biden fans want to swear off the series in response, there’s always golf to watch on Sundays.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities the author represents.