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A Fundamental Distinction – NASCAR and The Ongoing Flag Protests

(Gregory Shamus/2014 Getty Images)

In the wake of reading many of President Trump's tweets I find myself outraged, or disappointed, or embarrassed, or knowing more fuel has been added to a growing fire that seems to be threatening national unity from these days on.

Such was the case with one specific example of the president's tweets among the tantrum of outbursts he directed at sporting events and the protests that took place at these events over the weekend:

So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans. They won't put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag - they said it loud and clear!”

The president, as he often does, is either displaying ignorance of how things work or is willfully distorting the depiction of a situation in the hopes of using it to his benefit – not to mention the stereotyping of all NASCAR fans as inevitably being members of the Trump base.

The national anthem plays at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, July 2017. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

To his great credit, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was bold enough to quickly respond to the president with a tweet of his own, referencing President John F. Kennedy:

All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests -
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK”

To be honest, Earnhardt is in a position where he can afford to speak out. With his competitive career coming to an end and his popularity fundamentally established, the risk to his brand is smaller. For everyone else in NASCAR, participation in the sport is governed by economic realities.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. before the September 24 race in New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) 

The 32 teams of the National Football League are generally owned by a single person, with the teams operating under the league's rules and benefiting from financial structures designed to generate profits to the league and team ownership.

NASCAR presents a totally different operating structure. From NASCAR's inception more than five decades ago, the teams that compete at events are independent entities. They are responsible for their own operating costs, which – whether it be local short track drivers or top competitors racing on the longest superspeedways – means generation of sponsorship income is the lifeblood of the sport.

The absence of any organized protest at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend was not a thumbing-of-the-nose at the NFL athletes who exercised their rights to protest, nor was it an angry disagreement with the increasingly frank criticism of President Trump's behavior and domestic policies from players in the NBA.

Rather, it boils down to a simple, age-old racing rule: don't piss off the sponsors. Until the unimaginable day comes when that rule becomes insignificant, expect business-as-usual among everyone involved in NASCAR.

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