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Tail Lights: NASCAR's Left Turn

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Tail Lights: NASCAR's Left Turn
Automotive History from a Different Perspective

Volume 8, Issue 4

Bill Crittenden
1 July 2020

Go to Tail Lights index

Bubba Wallace at the 2019 GEICO 500. Check out our current Online Collection & backlog stats!

COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and now Bubba Wallace? Okay, one of these is a NASCAR driver but we all know the reason he's in the news isn't because of something that happened on the track. So what does it all have to do with the future history of automobiles?

Every month here we have a History Beyond the Bumpers segment that reflects the wider scope of The Crittenden Automotive Library. To get the complete picture of automotive history we need to include the environment in which the cars are designed, built, driven, and repaired. Usually this includes information about highways, labor, and culture. But 2020 is a different kind of year. So it includes the pandemic's effect on all things automotive and coming to terms with how everything in this country has been touched by racism in one way or another.

And June was an especially difficult month, even for 2020. I've discovered a new word: doomscrolling. It's when you're scrolling through social media for the bad news that is all too familiar in 2020. Riots, racism, the purposeful breakdown of the institutions that made the United States a beacon to the world, profiting off of suffering, and the ongoing pandemic we refuse to confront.

If doomscrolling created content for The Crittenden Automotive Library, this month's numbers would be huge.

But it doesn't, and June was thin on new material. Progress was made on indexing, though, and I did enjoy watching NASCAR's progressive fans get the upper hand on the reactionaries in the audience. More on that below.

This is an odd project, and it's driven by some aspects of my personality that I've gone through in previous issues. One of those personality quirks that drives this project is a desire to build something permanent and it's really hard to focus on building this Library when I feel like my country is collapsing around me. I'm trying to focus on the good news among the bad, but it's not easy to find. Some days are better than others for productivity, and it really has started to depend on the news headlines.

Hoping for more good news in July. *fingers crossed*

Check out the COVID-19 Special Collection page.


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History Beyond the Bumpers

The Crittenden Automotive Library includes information from all aspects of automotive transportation and competition. This section highlights some new material added to the Library about a topic other than vehicles themselves.

NASCAR has had sixty-plus years of embracing Dixie and confederate symbols, followed by maybe ten of halfheartedly trying to distance themselves from the worst elements of that history without upsetting their hardcore fans. It took only one month to upend NASCAR's image.

As recently as February the sport was celebrating President Trump visiting the Daytona 500 and taking a ride around the track in The Beast. In April Kyle Larson said a racial slur in an online racing event and lost his ride; the dirt track outsider that a lot of NASCAR fans wanted to vacate his seat for someone whose goal was Cup racing was suddenly more welcome into the sport than he had been before.

It was an ugly time. A few people were talking about giving up on the sport because of the embarrassment and assumptions made about NASCAR fans. I was one of them, but far from the only one.

And then, George Floyd was murdered. A tsunami of Black Lives Matter protests swept the country, and had been active enough by June 1st that I wrote about white privelege in last month's Tail Lights.

The momentum carried further than these protests ever had before, and on June 7th Bubba Wallace wore an "I Can't Breathe - Black Lives Matter" t-shirt for the prerace ceremonies at Atlanta. He stood for the anthem, wearing an American flag mask, hands folded in front of him instead of one hand over his heart. The photographs were iconic, Bubba creating a far different image from Colin Kaepernick's pig socks* and kneeling in the NFL, an image more suited to the NASCAR's patriotism. A NASCAR official (Kirk Price) knelt during the anthem with his fist raised. With the two different forms of protest the conversation was no longer nitpicking the methods but addressing the reasons.

The next race Bubba returned with a flat black car featuring #BlackLivesMatter on the quarter panel and "Compassion, Love, Understanding." on the hood below a light and dark hands grasping each other. It carried the familiar #43, which really drove home the point that this wasn't just a fringe newcomer who will be forgotten by next season but a new chapter in NASCAR's long history.

On June 10th NASCAR banned the display of the confederate flag at its events. The outrage and anger from the worst elements of NASCAR fandom was immediate and loud. Someone paid money to have a confederate flag flown from an airplane over Talladega Superspeedway before the race there. Protesters with flag-decorated trucks slowed traffic outside of the speedway.

Sort of lost in all of the confederate flag controversy was NASCAR's decision to simultaneously embrace Pride Month on June 9th with a rainbow logo unveiled with the words "I am Courageous. I am Driven. I am Inclusive. I am NASCAR."

Then came the noose. First there were reports of a noose in Bubba's garage. The Monday race at Talladega was emotional, with most of the NASCAR garage pushing Bubba's car to the front of the field before the race in a show of solidarity. The FBI was called in to investigate. After the race Bubba walked to the catchfence by the start-finish line to meet a group of black fans wearing Black Lives Matter shirts.

On Tuesday reports circulated that the noose had been in the garage since the October 2019 race. The FBI confirmed those reports. Right wing media had its field day, running the hashtag #FakeNoose on social media before NASCAR released a photograph of the noose the next day. It was definitely a noose, the question now being why was that considered normal until Bubba ended up being assigned that garage following weeks of threats and anger?

The answer is "progress." The NASCAR garage isn't letting these things slide anymore.

While the confederate flag wavers voiced their outrage, the non-reactionary NASCAR fans who previously felt shame and embarrassment among their more left-leaning peers found their voices and came together to tell the racists in the sport: "NASCAR is ours now. Get out."

At least, that's their message to other fans. Go Fas Racing, Corey LaJoie, and Matt DiBenedetto reminded us today that there is a strong pro-Trump contingent in the garage. How they square "I'm not a racist" with "but I support a racist for President" is the mystery of our time, but sadly not unique to the NASCAR crowd.

They're definitely feeling some pressure that wasn't there before. Kyle Weatherman had to deflect his "Back the Blue" paint scheme by tweeting about a firefighter in the family and first responders in general. 311 Speedway lost almost all of its sponsors and a traveling series when screenshots of track owner Mike Fulp's racist social media posts made the rounds and sponsors were contacted. Corey LaJoie had to lock his Twitter account after running just the quarter panel Trump sticker for the Pocono weekend. Dustin Skinner probably won't get a racing job on the national NASCAR circuit again. As I'm writing this there are calls for NASCAR to cut ties with Barstool Sports over Dave Portnoy's racist jokes.

Some day, hopefully decades from now after a long and more successful career than he's had so far, Bubba Wallace's car will be on Glory Road when he's inducted into NASCAR's Hall of Fame. Without him, this would have all been part of some abstract "outside world" story that NASCAR wouldn't have to address directly. Usually the sport can ignore these moments in history with platitudes about racing being an entertaining escape from the world's problems and it shouldn't be politicized. Bubba struggled in Petty's cars, but the spectacular finish in last year's Daytona 500 and his fan-friendly personality kept the team going just long enough to get to this moment in history, to put him in a spot where NASCAR couldn't have brushed off the Black Lives Matter movement as being separate from the sport.

And in the process Bubba has endured more hate and vitriol, by several orders of magnitude, than I've ever seen directed at a race car driver in all my years of watching. He hasn't been perfect, nobody is in these situations, but he's handled himself very well. He's known for years that he's got a different kind of spotlight on him, his pinned tweet from 2017 being, "There is only 1 driver from an African American background at the top level of our sport..I am the 1. You're not gonna stop hearing about "the black driver" for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey.." But I don't know that anyone could have predicted the intensity of the spotlight on him coming from outside of the sport.

The people shining that bright light on Bubba got a little unwelcome attention themselves. NASCAR fans saw how the worst elements of right wing media purposely distorted the noose story to fit their narrative, and I get the impression from some responses that they're not used having the insider info and discovering that their usual sources of news was so blatantly lying to them. Maybe it's a bit optimistic, but maybe Bubba made a pinprick in someone's media bubble.

2020 has been one hell of a crazy year with a potential WWIII, the COVID-19 pandemic, "murder hornets," a possible second simultaneous pandemic, a Presidential impeachment, and even I would not have predicted "NASCAR makes a progressive turn." So many ovals on the schedule, and this is the last left turn I expected them to make.

This may go down as one of the most consequential seasons in NASCAR history, and we're watching it all unfold in real time. No history books, no hindsight, just living through an incredible moment. For those of us who cringed for years at the worst elements of the sport, it's enormously positive. It's been a great year for us since the pause for COVID-19. Now if they could only shrink the spoiler and increase the horsepower...

* just to be clear the pig socks were worn during training camp and not while kneeling before a game.


The Dewey Decimal System's designation for automobiles falls within the 629.2 range. This section is about Library Owner Bill Crittenden's personal collection of books, magazines, and miscellaneous papers, much of which is available for reference if it's not directly available on CarsAndRacingStuff.com.

Check out our current Offline Collection stats!
Having been cooped up inside for quite a while and seeing Illinois' COVID numbers dropping during some really nice weather, I decided to venture out of the house and visit my old friend, Half Price Books. Hit a bit of a jackpot with a bunch of $2 shop manuals and a book of MG history from 1967 for $5. The happiest part of the finds was cruising through the 600 book milestone, landing at 606 total.

New Additions
  • The MG Story by Joseph Wherry, 1967
  • Computerized Engine Controls, Diagnostics & Testing: Imported Cars, Light Trucks & Vans (1988 Supplement) by Mitchell
  • Engine Performance Service & Repair, 1997 Supplement 1 of 3 (Acura-Isuzu) by MitchellRepair
  • Engine, Clutch & Drive Axle Service & Repair Supplement 1 of 2 (Acura through Kia) by MitchellRepair
  • Chilton's Import Automotive Repair Manual, 1977
  • Chilton's Auto Repair Manual 1983-1990 (U.S, and Canadian Models)
  • Chilton's Truck and Van Repair Manual 1979-1986
  • Chilton's Truck and Van Manual 1991-1995 (second copy)
  • Standard Catalog of Ford by John Gunnell, 2009 (digital book on physical media)

  • I'm running out of bookshelf space, again. A side project at home is a cleanup & purge of our home storage and moving some storage to the garage. This takes time away from adding content to CarsAndRacingStuff.com but it will free up space for future bookstore trips.

    Life's all about balance, right?

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    About The Crittenden Automotive Library

    The Crittenden Automotive Library @ CarsAndRacingStuff.com, based in Woodstock, Illinois, is an online collection of information relating to not only cars, trucks, and motorcycles, but also the roads they drive on, the races they compete in, cultural works based on them, government regulation of them, and the people who design, build, and drive them.  We are dedicated to the preservation and free distribution of information relating to all types of cars and road-going vehicles for those seeking the greater understanding of these very important elements of modern society, how automobiles have affected how people live around the world, or for the general study of automotive history and anthropology.  In addition to the historical knowledge, we preserve current events for future generations.

    The Library currently consists of over 784,000 pages of books, periodicals, and documents, over 45,200 individual articles, more than 18 days of video & 24 days of audio, more than 35,200 photographs & other images, and offline reference materials including 606 book volumes, over 1,500 magazines & catalogs, and thousands of advertising brochures & documents.

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