By MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Many a fan is quick to insist they do not like politics in their sports — no kneeling, no raised fists, no T-shirt messages. Just the game or event, please and thank you.
That has not been the case of late as the nation goes through a reckoning on race and racism following the death of George Floyd in police custody. In NASCAR, the colorful paint schemes on the stock cars themselves have taken a decidedly political turn in recent weeks — and will again this weekend.
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Corey LaJoie’s car will carry a scheme touting the re-election bid of President Donald Trump during Sunday’s Brickyard 400. The Patriots of America PAC spent $350,000 for the political advertisement that will be seen by anyone who catches a glimpse of the No. 32 Ford on NBC.
Political ads are not unheard of in NASCAR, but the move still drew attention in part because Trump is a polarizing figure for many and because the series itself is wrestling with how to boost diversity.
“Let’s just say there’s been a lot of Corey LaJoie stories this week,” said Tom Jensen, manager of curatorial affairs for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “Historically, I can tell you (NASCAR) sponsorship is a mixture of brand awareness, brand favorability and in some cases to move product directly.”
In February 2004, President George W. Bush attended the Daytona 500 while actively courting a swing-voter group his advisers dubbed “NASCAR dads.” President Ronald Reagan celebrated Richard Petty’s final Cup victory at a post-race drivers picnic on July 4, 1984, and exactly eight years later President George H.W. Bush witnessed Petty’s final Cup start. All came during re-election season and few were surprised when Trump attended the Daytona 500 in February.
This year’s messaging, however, has taken some sharp turns, perhaps reflecting the divided nation.
Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the Cup Series, helped persuade NASCAR to ban Confederate flags from its events less than two months ago. He also ran Petty’s famed No. 43 car in a Black Lives Matter paint scheme that did not have a sponsor. He also wore a T-shirt with the words “I can’t breathe,” the last words spoken by Floyd as he died with his neck pinned to the ground by the knee of a police officer.
Mike Harmon Racing recently added the phrase #BackTheBlue, a reference to supporting police officers, to one of his Xfinity Series cars after running the message Blue Lives Matter earlier this season.
On Saturday, both of Harmon’s Xfinity cars will carry #StandForTheFlag and We Stand, a move that comes less than a month after NASCAR eliminated a rule that asked race teams to stand, hand over heart, during the national anthem.
Harmon said this week’s theme is about patriotism and is not a critique of NASCAR, which must approve all paint schemes, or any other views. Repairedvehicles.com is the…