By: Zach Catanzareti
Shortly before the running of Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 from Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR president Steve Phelps joined NBC Sports to speak about the current efforts to stay inclusive in what has been a year of social change across the country.
“The sports world, we saw some things that are unprecedented, with games being canceled,” Phelps said. “And athletes finding their voice and talking about, in their minds, what needs to happen, what needs to change. I pivot back, frankly, to where we were back in early June. With, you know, coming out of the death of George Floyd, what the drivers did with their video in Atlanta.
“Then the following week with the banning of the confederate flag and importantly to make sure that we were making sure we were following through with that at the racetrack. And then the following week, with Bubba Wallace at Talladega and just those iconic images that came from Talladega.”
When asked why now is the right time for NASCAR to “take a stand” against social injustice, Phelps explained:
“For us, and again, I’ll go back to June, it was a moment in time in this country that it appeared like everyone really was interested in understanding what was happening,” he said. “An opportunity for us to listen. That’s where we were as a sport.
“You know, Bubba [Wallace], who I think we would all suggest that he’s shown nothing but class and courage in this whole thing and he always has kept it up here, never has gone down here. It’s all about love, understanding, welcoming people to this sport and that’s really what we’re about.
“And I think that for us at this moment in time, where we were in June, was something that was important for our sport. We want to have this great sport open to as many people as we can. And the events that happened in June really showcased who our sport was, so, I was super proud of it.”
Phelps had many takeaways from the past two months, the top priority? Getting better.
“It really is getting back to this, what actions can we take? I mean, it’s great to say the words, but if you don’t follow them up with actions, they’re really meaningless,” he said. “And so, for us, it’s continuing down this continuum of this journey towards getting better. And getting better really means bringing a more welcoming and inclusive environment whether at the racetrack or you’re watching on television, that our sport is a place where everyone is welcome.
“We say it a lot, but I think our sport does that better than any other, frankly, in terms of this sense of family and this sense of community that exists.”
With the regular season ending this weekend in Daytona before the 10-race championship playoffs begin next week at Darlington Raceway, Phelps closed by commenting on the excitement of the regular season.
“This has been circled on my calendar since the schedule came out last year,” he said of the 400-miler. “Even at the time, switching from the July 4 date and frankly, we were heavily criticized for doing that and bringing it to tonight, this is why we’ve done it.
“There are actually 17 individuals, drivers that could get in tonight that are in the top 30 that can win their way in or point their way in. It’s going to be — not that Daytona’s not always a wild ride, it’s going to be a wild ride.”