Description: With gay marriage laws hogging the headlines lately, it stands to reason that eventually some people will wonder about homosexual race car drivers. Some have wondered if there are gay NASCAR drivers.
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Well, for the record there was at least one. Currently, no driver is admitting to being gay, but in 2001 Stephen Rhodes participated in the NASCAR Late Model Stock Division at Southern National Raceway Park.
Who is Stephen Rhodes?
He was the first of future unknown gay NASCAR drivers to officially announce being gay. “Everyone knew, everyone was aware; never really had any confrontations,” Rhodes told NASCAR Race Hub. He was quiet about it though, and he quit so he could help his partner open a restaurant in 2010.
But last year, a lot of the headlines put the spotlight back on Rhodes. “Stephen Rhodes announces he is gay,” read the headlines. It was news because Rhodes was aiming to get back into NASCAR, and with Facebook and Twitter all the fans will know that there are gay NASCAR drivers.
Following the news regarding the return of Stephen Rhodes to NASCAR, the news exploded online regarding a supposed Jeff Gordon and Stephen Rhodes relationship. The headline read “Jeff Gordon And Stephen Rhodes Confirm Homosexual Relationship; NASCAR Fans Outraged”. Twitter and Facebook exploded as the story went viral. The story said that Jeff Gordon’s divorce was imminent and was dating Rhodes openly and they were indeed gay NASCAR drivers.
Jeff Gordon was targeted probably because he’s good-looking unlike the iconic Dale Earnhardt, and he’s from California where the liberal attitudes were in direct contrast with the mostly Southern crowd.
In fact, there was a time when Jeff Gordon was acknowledged as the most hated man in the sport of NASCAR. For the first ten years of his career, he was the one driver that fans hated the most. He was booed at every track meet.
The reasons for the disdain may be open for debate, but it didn’t help when he won so early in his career, and he won so often. The die-hard fans didn’t quite appreciate how a newbie was beating on their traditional favorites like Earnhardt, Waltrip, Allison, Pearson, and Petty.
Jeff Gordon got his first Cup championship in 1995, which was just his 3rd year in the sport. For the next five-year he won 47 races and three championships. He won the biggest events several times, which really didn’t endear him to the fans. He won the Daytona 500 three times, the Brickyard 400 four times and the Southern 500 five times.
(Pictured above Jeff Gordon and wife Ingrid Vandebosch)
Now how is this relevant to the topic of gay drivers? Well, the fans hated Jeff Gordon because he was different, and he won too much and too often. What happens if there’s an openly gay driver in NASCAR…and then he starts winning? It wouldn’t be surprising if the epithets and jeers contained a reference to his sexual orientation.
Consider also why some fans don’t like Danica Patrick. She was paid so much attention for being one of the top female NASCAR Drivers, and some fans didn’t think she deserved that much attention when she didn’t win all that often. And if Rhodes or possibly other “outed” gay NASCAR drivers gets media attention when they don’t win, there’s a very good chance of some antipathy too.
Are there gay NASCAR drivers? Statistically speaking, there’s a very good chance that there’s one except he is not telling just yet. After all, find any exclusively male group and you’ll find gay guys among them.
If you have a large enough group, there is going to be someone there who’s gay. While most people disagree how many guys there are in the population, that there will be at least one is statistically likely. That applies to NASCAR too.
Are gay NASCAR drivers acceptable today? These are relevant questions with Rhodes trying to enter and Jason Collins of the NBA openly declaring that he’s gay.
Officially, NASCAR has no problem with being gay. In fact, when Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Rights Law into law, NASCAR’s official reaction was “disappointment”. The law gave Indiana businesses the right to refuse serving gay customers simply by stating that it was against their religion.
Here’s NASCAR’s official statement:
“NASCAR is disappointed by the recent legislation passed in Indiana. We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and, therefore, will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana, and anywhere else we race.”
Stephen Rhodes has gone on record saying that he didn’t endure prosecution among his peers even though they knew he was gay. And Danica Patrick also speculated on what may happen if someone in NASCAR does come out as gay, and she said “I feel like it’s becoming a little bit more acceptable… I’m sure everybody would be OK.”
So the potential problem is not the official NASCAR administration, nor will it be likely that other drivers will have a problem with it. The potential problem is the demographic of NASCAR. Even Danica Patrick acknowledged that NASCAR is “a very southern, Republican, Bible Belt kind of a sport.”
The southern part of the US is where there used to be segregation and slavery, so it has a history of not cherishing the rights of the minority. The Republican Party is also known for its antagonism against the laws that let gay people get married. And the Bible Belt fans are also not well-known in their support of gay rights, as they’re more likely to quote scripture about how they are “abominations”.
The 2011 Scarborough Research poll also show some rather telling stats:
But are we stereotyping NASCAR fans in the same way that some people are stereotyping gay people? Who’s to say that just because the typical fan is a white male from the Bible belt that doesn’t earn much money means that the typical fan is a likely against gay NASCAR drivers?
Once upon a time, African American people in baseball were verbally abused in every game, and that happened to Hank Aaron back when he was chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record. Times aren’t all that much different now in Europe, where many black soccer players endure racial epithets.
So will someone say something anti-gay when there’s gay NASCAR drivers? Probably. In any large group, there will always be someone who is a moron. Personally, I prefer to think that there will be more of us who won’t care that someone is gay. If someone hurls abuse at a gay driver, then the rest of us should let that moron know that we don’t agree with their actions.