NASCAR takes racism head-on ahead of Sunday race at Atlanta Motor Speedway

HAMPTON, Ga. — Long before soon-to-be retired driver Jimmie Johnson said, “Gentleman start your engines,” the NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday was already creating a buzz as drivers showed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that have surrounded the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Metro Atlanta’s own Chase Elliott was part of video montage of NASCAR drivers that was sent out across social media before Sunday’s race, showing support for the movement. Elliott, of Dawsonville, tweeted out the video saying, “I will listen and learn.”

The video featured retired and current drivers across NASCAR that joined together to send a message of unity vowing to learn, educate and push change over the unrest in our county.

"The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others in the black community are heartbreaking and can no longer be ignored," the drivers said. “The process begins with us listening and learning. Because understanding the problem is the first step in facing it. We are committed to listening with empathy and with an open heart to better educate ourselves.”

The drivers said it is time for change and they vowed to be part of that change.

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"The events of recent weeks highlight the work we still need to do as a nation to condemn racial inequality and racism," the drivers said. "All of our voices, they make a difference. No matter how big or how small, it is all of our responsibility to no longer be silent."

Even as the race was getting ready to get underway, it was clear that the message was also being brought to life on the track.

Driver Bubba Wallace was wearing a T-shirt saying, “I can’t breathe,” on it. Wallace is currently the only black driver across NASCAR.

As the race got underway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps had the drivers silence their cars as he read a loud a statement to the drivers and their crews over their helmet headsets.

“The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better. The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice."

There was then a moment of silence.