On Monday we looked at the prominent North Carolinians embroiled in the controversy over ongoing pro athlete protests against racial profiling and violence in policing.
NASCAR, we said, was an interesting case as no drivers or prominent owners had yet taken a knee or otherwise publicly protested.
But Dale Earnhardt Jr. – the sport’s most popular driver – did lend his support to the protests through a Tweet.
NASCAR team owners Richard Childress and Richard Petty spoke out against the protests, saying they would fire drivers who joined in.
“Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem ought to be out of the country. Period,” Petty told the AP. “What got ’em where they’re at? The United States.”
Childress threatened to get his drivers “a ride on a Greyhound bus” if they joined the protests.
With such strong words, it’s worth taking a look at the connection between Petty, Childress, NASCAR and patriotism.
Public demonstrations of patriotism aren’t just popular among the sport’s conservative fan base – they’re also big money.
As the Washington Post reported upon the release of a government oversight report, released by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, on the Department of Defense paying sports teams and leagues for patriotic displays:
The report expands on one that became public last May and resulted in changes to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016, prohibiting the expenditures and calling on leagues and teams to donate the money to organizations that support the military, veterans and their families.
“What we take issue with,” wrote Flake, who, like McCain, is a Republican from Arizona, “is the average fan thinking teams are doing this on behalf of the military.”
NASCAR was the biggest recipient, getting $1,560,000 for fiscal year 2015. Included were personal appearances by Aric Almirola and Richard Petty, as well as 20 Richard Petty Driving Experience ride-alongs. The expenditures, according to the DOD, were “integral to its recruiting efforts.”
Petty, long a loyal Republican, appeared on stage at a Donald Trump campaign event in Greensboro during last year’s presidential campaign.
He also ran unsuccessfully for N.C. Secretary of State in 1996, being defeated by Democrat Elaine Marshall.
“If I had known I was going to lose I wouldn’t have run,” Petty famously said of his brief foray into statewide elective politics.