NASCAR was the microcosm of America last weekend, sport symbolizing all of the flashpoints of summer, from Confederate flag waving to Black Lives Matter protesting to COVID-19 virus risk avoidance.
The stock car fraternity was a 200 mph roiling mass of complexity trying to regain its status as the National Sport of the South instead of being all things to all people who over July 4 weekend just wanted to watch a few hours of undiluted sport.
Sunday’s race featured a sponsor name as long as one of those good-old-boy minor college football bowl games — the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 — but in actuality, it was the good old Brickyard 400.
Racing normalcy would have called for pedal-to-the-metal driver acceleration head to head, going as fast as anyone could without the entire societal political agenda pounding heads with baseball bats.
The Civil War was decided in 1865, but it is only in 2020 that the governing body of this auto racing gang decided it was time to ban the display and waving of the Confederate flag, which was benched by Abraham Lincoln and his generals before there were automobiles.
As overdue attention coalesced around black men being killed for no apparent reason by police officers, those sworn to protect them, there have only been about seven minority drivers taking the wheel in NASCAR over 65 years.
By coincidence, as major cities around the country erupt in protest to remind the rest of America that black lives matter even if they are not members of NASCAR, there happens to be an African-American driver of some prominence.
Bubba Wallace is a first-tier Cup racer who has placed as high as second in the Daytona 500 (in 2018) and third in the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis (in 2019). On Sunday, he placed ninth back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
As the only full-time African-American in the Cup Series, Wallace would be spotlighted repeatedly these days following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other individuals in Georgia and Louisville for no apparent reason other than being born with black skin.
Then, June 21, shortly after Wallace led the lobbying to eliminate the Confederate flag from NASCAR premises, a noose appeared in his garage. A noose. One of the most nauseating symbols of American racism, the implement of destruction for lynching, a heinous crime that so many got away with for so long. Some coincidence.
This is not 1920 or 1950. Wallace is a well-liked figure on the circuit. His car owner is Richard Petty, the godfather of the sport with his record 200 victories. Other drivers respect him. They all rallied for him, taking a stand against the discovery of the despicable rope.
A noose is about hanging. It is not rope used in a tug of war, used to tow your boat to the lake or wrapped around furniture to keep it stable in the back of the pickup truck.
The FBI jumped into the mess but determined this was not a hate crime because the noose rope had been hanging on a garage door since October. Hmm.
On Monday, President Donald Trump decided Wallace was at the root of a hoax perpetuated on his fellow drivers. It is amazing how rarely the word hoax was uttered in everyday conversation over recent years until Trump took over the White House. Now, we seem to go only minutes between hoaxes.
The virus, also thus explained by Trump a few months ago, was a lot less hoax-like to seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson on Friday when he tested positive and had to scratch from the Brickyard. Instead of racing Sunday, Johnson was quarantined with his wife and children.
For that matter, the speedway was quarantined with no spectators and vast seas of empty seats as NBC host Mike Tirico explained he and a couple of other commentators were at the Pagoda in Indianapolis and other commentators were sprinkled around the nation in studios.
While Wallace was trying to figure out if someone was out to get him, while Johnson was trying to figure out if doctors could prevent him from becoming too sick and while President Trump, who perhaps thought he was elected to succeed Jefferson Davis, was saying how the Confederate flag wasn’t a bad thing, Kevin Harvick managed to win a race.
Harvick scored some points against the crazy backdrop of empty seats, the studio nature of the event and drivers being interviewed wearing Lone Ranger masks. After all, it was a sporting event.