Just as his grandfather did 44 years ago, NASCAR Chief Executive Officer Brian France is trying to deliver the South to the presidential candidate who’s become the favorite among white, working-class voters.
On Tuesday, France threw his support behind Republican Donald Trump on the eve of Super Tuesday, when 13 states will hold primaries, including seven Southern states. His grandfather, “Big” Bill France Sr., helped deliver the 1972 Florida Democratic primary to Alabama Governor George Wallace, who rose to prominence for his segregationist views.
Brian France’s endorsement of Trump, who one day prior wouldn’t disavow the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) or white supremacists groups on national television, comes at a time when NASCAR continues to espouse its efforts to increase diversity among its drivers, almost all whom are white males, and its mostly white audience.
France’s endorsement came Tuesday night at Georgia’s Valdosta State University where France was joined on stage by Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott and current drivers Chase Elliott (Bill’s son), Ryan Newman and David Ragan, all of whom endorsed Trump.
“If the people that like and watch NASCAR vote for Donald Trump, they can cancel the election right now,” Trump said at the rally. “Nobody [else]can win. Nobody.”
NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said in an email that France’s decision to endorse Trump is a “personal, private decision by Brian,” who has supported Republican presidential candidates in the past.
France’s endorsement came after Trump, on CNN on Monday, said he did not know who former KKK grand wizard David Duke is despite Duke’s endorsement of Trump. Asked three times to disavow Duke and other white supremacist groups, Trump declined. Later in the day, off air, he did disavow Duke and said he was having trouble understanding the questions because of his earpiece.
Black students kicked out
And France’s endorsement came shortly after Trump’s organization kicked out 30 black Valdosta State students who were standing silently atop the bleachers at the rally — before the rally even started, the students told USA Today.
“We didn’t plan to do anything,” Tahjila Davis, a 19-year-old mass media major, told USA Today. “They said, ‘This is Trump’s property; it’s a private event.’ But I paid my tuition to be here.”
The Valdosta police chief told USA Today the students were asked to leave by members of Trump’s detail and that Trump had that right since he rented out the complex.
As a presidential candidate, Trump has supported a ban on Muslims coming into the United States. He has grouped Mexican immigrants in with criminals and rapists. Using broken English, Trump mocked Asian business leaders saying, “We want deal!” A Washington Post poll in February found Trump to be the least-liked of all candidates among black voters.
Wallace similarly espoused exclusionary views, exploiting white backlash against busing — probably the most incendiary racial issue of the early 1970s.
“Big” Bill France founded NASCAR in 1948 and in 1959 he made the race in Daytona, Florida, the sport’s biggest event.
And in the late 1960s he wanted to get a track in Alabama. He became close with Governor Wallace, and NASCAR broke ground on what is now known as Talladega Superspeedway, one of the crown-jewel tracks in the sport.
This was going on amid the Civil Rights Movement. It was Wallace who said, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inaugural address in 1963. And later that year, he stood in front of doors at the University of Alabama attempting to block admission of black students.
Wallace ran a failed independent campaign for president in 1968. In 1970, Wallace ran for re-election as Alabama’s governor and published campaign literature that suggested that a vote for his opponent would help black voters “elect and control the Governor’s office.”
By 1972, Wallace had backed off some of his more staunch segregationist views and taken up as his signature platform opposition to busing to promote integrated public schools.
With his connections in Daytona and Florida, France helped deliver the state (and every one of its counties) to Wallace in the 1972 Democratic primary, according to multiple reports in the years since. Wallace would be shot and paralyzed later that year, effectively ending his campaign.
The elder France’s endorsement also came at a time where there was only one black driver on NASCAR’s top circuit. Wendell Scott, who was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year, was repeatedly turned away at the Darlington track, routinely faced insults by fans and drivers and, in the only race he won, was denied Victory Lane and announced as the winner hours later after a “scoring error.” There have been only two black drivers in NASCAR’s top series since Scott.