Out NASCAR Driver Attempts Come Back
After spending years away from NASCAR to help his partner open a restaurant, Stephen Rhodes wants to return to racing. In an interview with Fox Sports, the athlete opened up what it’s like to be out in NASCAR.
"Everyone knew, everyone was aware; never really had any confrontations," Rhodes told Fox Sports’ NASCAR Race Hub. "There was one little incident that happened that I felt was geared towards who I was, more than anything. That kind of made me second-guess the sport for a second, but at the end of the day, it didn’t really bother me."
More than 10 years ago, Rhodes competed in the NASCAR Campaign World Truck Series, and though he was dedicated to racing, he left that world to open up a restaurant in his hometown of Goldsboro, N.C. The restaurant was a success, which is now allowing Rhodes to consider making a comeback to racing.
Much has changed in the past decade, however, and the gay rights movement has made incredible strides, especially in the sports world. In April, NBA’s Jason Collins became the first active male athlete in a major American team sport to come out as gay, paving the way for other LGBT athletes.
Rhodes is now working with Brent Brush of A2B Strategies, a marketing company, who is helping the driver to find the funding for a full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opportunity for 2014.
"Is NASCAR ready for this? Are the fans ready for this? Is corporate America willing to participate in this?" Brush asked.
As Race Hub reports, Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski and Roush-Fenway Racing standout Carl Edwards believe the sport can accept an out racer and NASCAR officials issued a statement to the publication about the issue.
"NASCAR is a community made up of people from every walk of life. Our employees - regardless of their race, age, national origin, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation, faith or physical abilities - do an outstanding job of helping to bring the best racing in the world to our fans every week and that is what matters," the statement reads. "It’s a stated goal for our sport to reflect America’s diversity. Exclusion or intolerance of any kind - whether behind the wheel, on pit road, or in the garage - is not part of that philosophy."
Rhodes remains optimistic.
"I don’t think going into a sport - having to face the ones that either like me or don’t like me - is any different than I live any day," Rhodes told the publication. "I live in the South. I know that NASCAR has a conservative, Southern fan base, and I’m not going to try and change anyone’s minds and their opinions. They’re either going to like me or going to hate me. That’s just life in general, really.
"I would like people to know, just because we have a different preference and lifestyle, that we’re no different from anyone else," Rhodes said later. "We deserve fairness. We’re just everyday people."
Rhodes isn’t the only openly gay racer. As Out Sports reports, Evan Darling came out in 2011, and in May 2013, Matthew Patterson, an official for NASCAR, came out.
Out Sports also says that NASCAR is ready for an openly gay player, writing, "First, of course NASCAR´s ready. Polls, Tweets and anecdotes have shown an overwhelming readiness on behalf of professional athletes, teams, fans and companies with endorsement deals to support a gay athlete in every sport, NASCAR is no different. NASCAR itself has made its organizational acceptance of gay people very clear."
Out Sports asserts that "it doesn’t matter if NASCAR’s ready or not," explaining, "They’ll have an openly gay active driver when one is good enough to lead a team and strong enough to come out. Whether that’s Rhodes or not, everything will be just fine when it happens."