Updated: Aug 30
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is set to be the honorary starter in the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 22 at 8 p.m. ET. (Photo: Texas Motor Speedway)
When the NASCAR Cup Series made several announcements regarding the 2022 All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway, there have been mixed opinions about the format, how the final stage is set and debating if it’s the best venue for this event, but one topic that’s causing a stir is the presence of a well-known politician this weekend.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will be the ceremonial flagman, waving the green flag to kick off the All-Star Race in Texas. Since Abbott uses a wheelchair, he’ll wave the flag from the pit lane instead of the flag stand. It’s not uncommon for elected officials such as mayors, governors, congressional members, and sitting presidents to make appearances at sporting events and bring their fair share of criticism with them. However, Abbott has brought a strong response from race fans, especially from the LGBTQ+ community and allies.
In February 2022, the governor issued a directive to the Department of Family and Protective Services to "conduct a prompt and thorough investigation" of any reported instances of minors undergoing "elective procedures for gender transition." It even goes far enough that state law "provides criminal penalties” for failure to report such child abuse.
This is viewed as targeting the transgender youth seeking transitions and it allows members of the public to report a family if they may have a child that is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Treatments like sex-reassignment surgery, puberty blockers and hormonal therapy may be tried in court as child abuse.
Race fans on social media, especially fans belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, have voiced their opposition to the news and called out NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway. In 2020, NASCAR recognized June's Pride Month. They also partnered with the Carolinas LGBT+ Chambers of Commerce and The Trevor Project, a suicide and crisis hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.
In the end, NASCAR and/or Texas Motor Speedway could’ve selected various ceremonial starters such as NASCAR Hall of Famers like Richard Petty, professional athletes from the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, the NHL’s Dallas Stars or a celebrity from Texas. Their selection of Gov. Abbott during an election year left many questioning why NASCAR would make such a move.
In 2020, also during an election year, former U.S. President Donald Trump was the grand marshal for the Daytona 500 and gave the command to start engines.
As drivers become more vocal about social injustice, including LGBTQ+ rights, some heads of state have been lightning rods of controversy. This includes Formula 1 when Sir Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel wore rainbow flag designs in response to anti-LGBTQ+ policies in Hungary and Saudi Arabia. This message at times conflicts with the elected official serving as the head of state of a given country.
Formula 1 and NASCAR will return to Texas in the fall of 2022. Should racing series try to avoid elected officials being included in such a ceremonial role to prevent a potential conflict that could undermine the message of inclusivity?
Writer’s Note: We will report on the results of the All-Star Race and continue to follow this story as it develops. One mission of the GRID Network is to share the art of motorsports with everyone. We welcome all fans. Motorsport is universal. The vehicle doesn’t know the driver/rider's age, gender, race or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this news has had a negative impact on fans that feel targeted and hurt. Nobody should feel discriminated against or unsafe because of their identity. We will continue to push for more inclusivity in motorsports for all.