Ty Dillon leads NASCAR pack with call for social change
You first, Ty Dillon. “I never want to be seen as someone who is silent on the subject of racism and social injustice,” Dillon writes in a social media post.
“My heart is in pain for my brothers and sisters in the black community, the family of George Floyd, and the many other families who have been affected by racism and hate.”
Dillon, in case you didn’t know, is a 28-year-old NASCAR driver — white, as nearly all NASCAR drivers are — with a handful of wins in the organization’s lower-level series, zero wins and middle-of-the-pack statistics driving for a middle-of-thepack team in the elite Cup Series.
Dillon is also the grandson of Richard Childress, the Hall of Fame owner of a stronger Cup Series team that, during the height of the Colin Kaepernick controversy, made a point of saying any employee of his who took a knee during the national anthem would be out of a job.
So, it’s not hard to see why Dillon’s social-media opening line dispelled the notion that he might remain silent on the subject.
Indeed, many wondered if NASCAR and its participants would zip their mouths and just keep racing while the country was horrified by the video of the killing of George Floyd and torn by the chaotic protests that raged in the video’s aftermath.
After all, NASCAR is on a roll, taking the lead as a major sport able to resume live action, regaining its swagger with thrilling races, posting robust viewership numbers.
Sunday’s race at Bristol was the perfect example. It was a barnburner from the green flag to Brad Keselowski’s dramatic drive under the checkers. Just under 3 million viewers tuned in — the biggest audience since 2017 for a race on Fox’s sports cable arm, FS1.
As it turns out, the on-air success of NASCAR’s empty-grandstands events did not deter some participants, or NASCAR itself, from speaking out on social media and in interviews.
Here are a few examples, some of them excerpts.
Eric Nyquist, NASCAR’s senior vice president, responded to Dillon, tweeting,
OPINION “Thank you for being a leader.”
Ryan Blaney in a post with a shared rendering of Floyd and the slogan #justiceforFloyd: “…we all have to stand together on what’s right and wrong. What happened to Mr. Floyd and all others who have been oppressed has sickened me. I support the change that needs to happen in this country and around the world.”
Daniel Suárez, Mexican and NASCAR’s only foreign-born driver: “I feel pain, disappointment and anger every time I see the horrible video of George Floyd pleading for his life. He deserved better, black people deserve better, humanity deserves better .... When will racism and prejudice stop?”
Tyler Reddick, a rookie Cup driver, after retweeting Suárez’s post: “I want to let everyone know out there, I hurt with you and I stand with you.” Followed by a hashtag series — #BlackLivesMatter #ICantBreathe #GeorgeFloyd #JusticeForFloyd #SystematicOppression
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., the only active black Cup driver, in a lengthy Instagram conversation with Dillon: “I don’t believe that the violent riots and looting is the way to go . ... It’s not solving anything . ... We have been crying out for help for so many years, right? Nothing’s happened . ... A tweet from whoever, and it goes quiet, that’s it.”
Wallace then offers his hope.
“The more voices, the better . ... It takes all of us . ... lt’s time to stand up for what’s right.”
Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time Cup champion, when asked in an NBC interview after Sunday’s race about protests: “The circumstances are just crazy and unacceptable. I am for protesting, peaceful protesting. And I hope there’s more of that tonight . ... The message needs to be clear, but I think being peaceful is really the right way to send the message here.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., TV commentator and former perennial most popular driver: “Black Lives Matter. They are hurting and upset and it’s time for me to listen. Riots, violence, and looting is bad and needs to stop.”
NASCAR, in a statement: “For us to heal and move forward as a nation, we all need to listen more and be united in the stand against racism, hatred and senseless violence and loss of life, and we must all hold ourselves accountable to driving positive change . ... We must do better and our commitment to promoting equality and inclusion continues and will never waver.”
Since 2004, NASCAR has had an official Drive for Diversity program, encouraging minority drivers and other participants. To those of us who have regularly walked the NASCAR track garages since the 1970s, the change is visible, particularly among crew members and officials.
But the fact that Wallace remains a solo act as a black driver highlights the slow pace of that change, and NASCAR has been criticized for that pace. Acknowledging that it “must do better,” the sanctioning body makes a promise and invites scrutiny.
You can judge for yourself whether the drivers and the organization have been bold enough. As for me, I am encouraged most by the NASCAR official’s six-word praise of Dillon for his leadership. The personal nature of that tweet points toward a welcome path.
And, as one who has watched the sport since NASCAR’s formative years, among what I consider an interesting current cast of drivers, I’m adding a new favorite — Ty Dillon.
In his social-media statement, Dillon says in part, “Around the country, a lot of my brothers and sisters are currently hurt deeply and have been for hundreds of years without change. I want to be part of the generation that forever changes this narrative.”
He extols his Christian faith and adds, “No human deserves to be oppressed, hated or killed because of their skin color. Together, we can take meaningful action that can change our nation and put an end to racism and social injustice.”
From your post to God’s laptop, Ty.
Ty Dillon is one of several NASCAR drivers — and the organization itself — to call for social change following George Floyd’s death last week.