In a contentious move that mixes politics with sports, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France has publicly backed Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump ahead of Super Tuesday primaries. Appearing at a Monday rally for Trump in Valdosta, Georgia, France's endorsement has drawn criticism after NASCAR had previously distanced itself from Trump last year.
"I've known Donald for over 20 years," France said during the rally. "I'm going to tell you one thing about him: You know about his winning in business and success. I'm here to tell you he wins with his family. ... Any of his children, you'd be proud to have them as part of your family.
"That's how I judge a winner, how somebody manages their family, raises their family."
The decision by France to support Trump is reversal on it's previous stance about the controversial billionaire. In July, NASCAR announced it wouldn’t return to Trump National Doral Miami resort for its postseason Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series banquet after comments Trump made regarding Mexicans. Meanwhile, drivers Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman and David Ragan are also backing the likely Republican nominee.
NASCAR has tried to be more inclusive in recent years, hoping to increase its popularity with Hispanics and African Americans. But there isn’t much diversity within the sport, and a 2013 Nielson study reported that 94 percent of the viewers were white.
Shortly after last year’s race was moved, NASCAR received backlash for the amount of Confederate flags that appear during races. While fans were asked to refrain from bringing the flags to NASCAR events in order to create an “all-inclusive” atmosphere, they have remained a presence in the stands.
Camping World Chairman and CEO Marcus Lemonis, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, spoke out against Trump when the event was moved last year, and expressed his disagreement with France’s endorsement on Twitter.
There is no place for politics/any political endorsements in any business. Your customers and employees should have their own mind. #period
— Marcus Lemonis (@marcuslemonis) March 1, 2016
NASCAR spokesperson David Higdon told ESPN.com that France’s comments did not reflect on NASCAR, calling it a “private personal decision.”