Phelps tackled a number of topics during a conference call with the sport’s media but went out of his way to address the sport’s efforts to promote equality and combating social injustice and how it will remain an important element of the sport going forward.
Following the killing of George Floyd in late May 2020, Bubba Wallace – the only fulltime African-American driver in NASCAR’s premier Cup series – called on the sport to remove the Confederate flag from race tracks.
By the next month, NASCAR had officially banned the display of the Confederate flag from its tracks and properties – a move that was hailed by many but also prompted backlash from some longtime fans and triggered its own protests.
Darrell Wallace Jr., Richard Petty Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: NASCAR Media
“I think it was the right time for our country. I think it was the right time for our sport. The response to that was fantastic,” Phelps said. “What we do in the areas of social justice and diversity equity inclusion is going to be authentic to who we are.
“It may not be the right thing for the NBA, but it’s going to be the right thing for us. We’ve broken our diversity equity and inclusion strategy (DE and I) into three pieces: what are we going to do for ourselves internally, what are we going to do as an industry, and what are we going to do with the partnerships we can secure.”
In terms of internal moves, Phelps said efforts are being made to improve supplier diversity and creating more opportunity for women and minorities in the company and in its hiring practices.
As an industry, Phelps had made a commitment that everyone working in NASCAR would receive sensitivity and unconscious bias training and that was accomplished during the offseason.
New sponsorships in the DE and I area are also in the works for NASCAR, not to mention new team ownership and investment roles in the sport involving NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and current Buffalo Bills rookie Antonio Williams.
“The sponsorships that we have or the partnerships that we’re developing are significant. When it’s time to announce what those are – and that will be soon – it will be gratifying,” Phelps said. “I think it’s right for our sport.
“It’s authentic to our sport. We are going to continue this. For us, it really is about making sure that we continue to act, and act in a way that is consistent with where our brand DNA is.”
NASCAR taking a stand
Phelps he and other NASCAR executives were very encouraged to receive the results of their custom, third-party brand tracking study conducted by Directions Research.
The study polled NASCAR fans on their opinions around NASCAR’s stance on social justice in 2020, inclusive of the banning of the Confederate flag. The analysis was conducted by polling 1,750 self-identified “avid” NASCAR fans and the research took place during the 2020 playoffs.
The brand tracker study determined that NASCAR’s stance on social justice and the banning of the Confederate flag resonated overwhelmingly positively with fans.
· NASCAR avid fans of 16+ years were 3 times more likely to approve of NASCAR’s actions;
· NASCAR avid fans of 4-15 years were 6 times more likely to approve;
· NASCAR avid fans of 0-3 years were 8 times more likely to approve.
“There was a question at the time: did NASCAR go too far to ban the Confederate flag? Social justice, is that something a sport should do, NASCAR should do? Do we have permission to do it?” Phelps said.
“The answer is yes. The question was: How is that going to affect our core fan, our avid fan? To me, it really speaks to our fan base.
“We have an opportunity with so many different things where we are bringing these new fans who are going to sample our great sport. It’s an exciting time.”