OPINION: Why a diverse NASCAR matters to this Jewish writer
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By Seth Eggert, Editor-in-Chief
A little over a year ago, NASCAR took the step that I have been waiting for years, a step towards a more tolerant, compassionate, diverse and understanding fan base. To understand why I aspire to this change, I must first explain how I got here.
Long before I joined the NASCAR Media Corps, I was much like most other racing fans. However, there was a difference. My family and I are Jews. Aside from Alon Day’s sporadic debut in the NASCAR National Series, I honestly can’t remember the last time someone like me competed in NASCAR in the United States.
Being a member of a minority religion, I followed NASCAR Desire for diversity program since its inception. Before I even got the idea to work in NASCAR as a journalist, I researched and followed the careers of the drivers who took the program. However, my continued research and enthusiasm for the Drive for Diversity program hardly happened.
Bad experiences on the track in 2013 and 2015 almost took me away from the sport, as a Jewish NASCAR fan. Since 2015, I haven’t worn my Star of David necklace, passed down from my grandfather who was a Holocaust survivor and a NASCAR fan, to the racetrack.
I spoke briefly about these experiences on Twitter, the Drafting of circuits Podcast, and The madness of motorsports in the past. However, I never put pen to paper actually documenting them. Even as I was writing this story, I was reluctant to publicly expose my experiences.
In 2013, at a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, I went to the bathroom and then went to get some food before the race. I had taken off the Star of David collar while in the bathroom to apply sunscreen. When I put it back on, I didn’t put it back under my shirt, I didn’t think about it. As I got out of the bathroom, I pulled out my wallet, only for another fan to start yelling at me.
“Hey, did you just pick up a $ 20 bill from behind that trash?” Cried the fan.
Confused I looked and behind the trash and apologized saying I hadn’t seen anything.
What happened next was the first personal experience of discrimination anywhere.
“Let’s see what security has to say about it. Just give me the $ 20, you’re made of money. At that point, I realized what was going on. I did my best to avoid this “fan”, but he just supported me in the entrance to the toilet. Feeling threatened, scared, scared, I gave him $ 20 from my wallet. I heard him chuckle in the bathroom as I stood there in shock.
I never reported it. I didn’t know the name of the fan. A description of a fan wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and shirt from a fan favorite pilot would have done no good. At that time, it was a needle in a haystack of 12,000 fans. Embarrassed, I put the event behind me and never talked about it until 2016.
A few years later, in a different place, I experienced the most terrifying moment I have had to date. After the pre-race invocation, when everyone around me was saying ‘Amen’, I said ‘Shalom’. It wasn’t the first time I had done this. My family and I had competed in all the races we had attended that I can remember.
In the moments between the invocation and the national anthem, an open can of beer splashed beside me. Thinking that someone had just dropped their beer, I ignored him. Immediately after the national anthem, I had a rude awakening. This time, an unopened can of beer exploded next to me.
Soaked in beer, I turned around. Other fans also turned to watch. A few rows up, a group of four fans started shouting derogatory epitaphs at me. After seeing another beer throw at me, which missed and landed in an empty seat two rows down, I put my gear away and started walking.
As I walked up the stairs, I saw a few “fans” who threw beers and epitaphs at me pointing in my direction. Two of them started to walk towards the opposite end of their row. I had an idea of where I was going, but now I thought I was being followed.
I walked in and out of the washroom as I made my way from my seat on Turn 1 to the start-finish line. Fortunately, this race had been rainy the day before and there were a lot of empty seats. Around round 30, I finally grabbed a seat near where I knew one of my dad’s friends was sitting.
As in 2013 before, I did not report it. Although this time I knew exactly who attacked me, I was afraid, ashamed and embarrassed. I thought of my sister who had been beaten up in middle school because we were Jewish, despite multiple attempts to bring her problems to school. I thought of my grandparents, both Holocaust survivors. There was so much going on in my head that I can’t remember what happened in that race.
So I just didn’t talk about it. When I spoke about these experiences, there were fans who attacked me. On Facebook and Twitter, fans commented negatively: “it didn’t happen”, “it never would have happened to me”, “if it had happened, why didn’t you come forward sooner”, among other comments and memes.
Renewing my love of NASCAR
2015 was a year of change for me. As I explained, I have experienced some of the worst there is. Earlier this year my work with iRacingNews covering the iRacing IndyCar series has ended. A three-month stint as a “development journalist” with the deceasedPopular speed resulted in a single article and a lot of soul searching.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I was heading to my last semester of college for a degree in history. At that point, I thought my time in the NASCAR community, 20 years at the time, was coming to an end.
Then I came across a Facebook post advertising a writing job covering NASCAR. On a whim, and on the advice of my parents, I responded. At the 2016 Daytona 500 I was writing for Motorsport forum. Through them, Short track stage, and friends such as Speed sportis Jacob Seelman, TSJ Sports‘Peter Stratta and Noah Lewis, I fell in love with NASCAR again. I have also become a much more complete writer, although I still hunker down from time to time.
I told my experience to Motorsport forum in an opportunity as an esports editor and publisher for Kickin ‘the Tires, where you read this article.
Hanging lamp by Josh Réaume
On November 10, 2020, along with many in the industry, I learned of Josh Reaume’s suspension after posting an anti-Semitic post on social media. The anti-Semitic post was a photo of a swastika. Kickin ‘the Tires editor-in-chief Jerry Jordan broke the news eight months ago. NASCAR rightly suspended Reaume until he completed sensitivity training.
Josh Reaume suspended for anti-Semitic social media posting
It was frustrating, maddening, and frankly, it made me angry. Once again, both of my grandparents are Holocaust survivors. My grandfather survived Auschwitz-Birkenau; my grandmother survived Bergen-Belsen. They were two of nine family members who survived the Holocaust. A total of 70 family members were imprisoned in the concentration camps.
I held back the urge to embark on a swearing rant on social media and on various podcasts and radio shows I was invited to following the incident. I know I’m better than that, but it brought memories of my negative fan experiences, which I had mostly deleted, to the fore.
Since then, Reaume has completed his sensitivity training and has been reinstated by NASCAR.
A year ago, NASCAR banned the Confederate Battle Flag from its properties, tracks, etc. They have also partnered with various organizations such as the Urban Youth Racing School, the Trevor Project, the Women’s Sports Foundation, UnidosUS and several historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) among other organizations. Each of these stages opened the flood gates to potential new racing fans.
This has undoubtedly led to new fans entering the sport after NASCAR returned to racing after the COVID-19 shutdown. Some, like Alvin Kamara, Bernard Pollard Jr., Renee Montgomery and others, began to get more involved after the Confederate Battle Flag was banned. The # 43 Bubba Wallace #BlackLivesMatter Compassion, Love, Understanding Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE at Martinsville Speedway on Wednesday June 10, 2020 also attracted new fans.
Kamara has since attended NASCAR races at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway. His company sponsored Ryan Vargas in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. Today, Kamara was named NASCAR’s first-ever Growth and Engagement Advisor.
Pollard’s sports fandom became a partnership with Ally. He was invited on Door, Bumper, Clear and joined iRacing. Pollard was the honorary starter of the Ally 400 last weekend in Nashville.
Like Adam Stern from Sports business journal reported in March, NASCAR formed a diversity committee that covers the industry.
.@NASCAR has formed a new 15-person diversity committee that covers the industry and has names in bold involved, as sport takes another step forward towards equality and inclusion.
– Adam Stern (@ A_S12) March 29, 2021
The circle has come full circle, as a fan of the Jewish race and today as a member of the media, the pre-race invocation still leaves me most of the time uncomfortable. This is the one time of every race day and every racing event that I cover or attend in person that I don’t feel included. Now, I am not advocating the removal of the invocation. Rather have one that is more inclusive for everyone.
While NASCAR has made huge strides in inclusiveness, there is still room for improvement. For my part, I am excited to see where the sport is going and what a more diverse and inclusive NASCAR will look like in the days, months and years to come.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen | Getty Images via NASCAR Media.