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June 7, 2020

‘I will listen and learn’: Drivers unite for message of social change

2020 June7 Drivers Social Change Main Image
Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch from a NASCAR video release pre-race before Atlanta.

NASCAR drivers showed their support Sunday for the movement of social justice after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, releasing a video from their social media channels advocating for change and promising, “I will listen and learn.”

The message — organized, led and planned by the drivers themselves — came before the green flag of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for the NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Further commemorations were held during pre-race ceremonies, including a moment of silence.

The video message comes after several drivers spoke out last weekend in support of healing the nation’s racial divide. Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez were among the first to open up with their thoughts, and they were joined by Ty Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and others.

After finished seventh in Sunday’s race, Johnson explained that he took an active role in organizing the drivers’ message.

“I was involved in helping put it together, and I was just really proud of the drivers who got involved,” Johnson said. “Honestly proud of NASCAR and what they did, but it’s been a personal journey on a much deeper level this week for me to listen and learn, and as a lot of us drivers started chatting about the week and experience and a lot of this was led by Bubba. Really have to give him a ton of credit, including Ty Dillon, the accountability that those two really put on the garage area, put on me ‑ not directly on me, but I could just see ‑ it made a difference, and I think that resonated with a lot of people.

“I spent a lot of time listening and learning this week, and that message rang clear with many of my other driver friends, and we kind of found that message, and that was the message that made it into the video.”

Wallace was seen on pit road during pre-race ceremonies wearing a T-shirt reading, “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter,” which his Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 team held up on pit road. Wallace amplified his message in the FOX Sports pre-race broadcast, and analyst Jeff Gordon echoed his push for change.

MORE: Ty Dillon: ‘This is where I stand’

The national anthem was performed by 12-year-old Keedron Bryant, whose song “I Just Want to Live” spread on social media in the wake of the social unrest.

The 40-car field stopped on the frontstretch during pace laps and silenced the engines for an address from NASCAR president Steve Phelps.

“Thank you for your time. Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard,” Phelps’ statement read. “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. We ask our drivers … and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection, to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport, and join us as we now pause and take a moment to listen.”

Race winner Kevin Harvick said he joined the video message in hopes of lending support and making a difference.

“For me, something just has to change, and I think when you look at what happened in Minnesota, it’s just disgraceful to everyone,” Harvick said of Floyd’s death. “To be able to have conversations about things, I’m definitely a person that wants to hear a plan that has actions included in it, and just try to support each other and do the things that we can do to try to help our communities and help the conversations because there’s so much that everyone doesn’t understand of what we need to do and how we need to do it. But I can tell you that we need change.”

Wallace and Dillon openly discussed the issue in a nearly 30-minute video chat last week as Wallace relayed some of his experiences as the lone African-American driver in NASCAR’s top series.

Sunday, as the field made its final pace lap before the initial green flag, Wallace told his crew: “All right, boys. this last week’s been pretty damn stressful to say the least. Racing with a lot on my mind, a lot on my heart, so appreciate the efforts and see what we can do today.”