Montreal stock-car racing legend Dick Foley was not just the first Canadian to race in the Daytona 500, back in 1959, but Foley also inadvertently caused the biggest pile-up in NASCAR history at Daytona Speedway the following year.
After losing, then regaining, control of his Chevy Impala – the words "Montreal, Canada" painted on his fenders – Foley spun out into the infield. Thirty-seven cars (in a record 73-car field) behind Foley weren’t so lucky, crashing in a spectacular demolition derby that you can still see by surfing to www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Eb3Sf6Kf1I.
Stock-car racing’s storied bootlegging past, car crashes and stunts – one driver was even offered $1,000 cash to race without a roof in Daytona’s 1959 inaugural race – established NASCAR as a macho club of good ole boys, thrill-seekers and speed demons.
Over the decades, everybody knows there have been gay drivers in NASCAR – though just one has ever publicly come out of the closet, Massachusetts-born Evan Darling, who recently told the Florida Agenda newspaper, "I don’t have a big gay flag on my racing suit. My partner always came to the races with me. And [other drivers] never had an issue with that."
Continues Darling, "However, since I’ve turned pro some of the teams have talked about me behind my back. They’re just pussies, they don’t want to talk to your face. If you ask them if there’s a problem, they say ‘No,’ they’re okay with it, but then you hear the stories of what they say behind your back. That’s just how it is and I don’t care. I’m happy and comfortable with myself and I think we should all be that way."
I’m not surprised Darling is treated this way considering the God-awful homophobic reaction to the news that racer Tim Richmond – one of the first drivers to switch from open-wheel racing to stock-car racing – died of AIDS back in August 1989, at the height of the AIDS hysteria. Richmond was just 34.
"Folks now admit, ‘We were ashamed of how we acted back then. We were ignorant, we thought HIV equalled gay, we did Tim Richmond wrong,’" says Vegas-based gay NASCAR fan Michael Myers, who started the NASCAR racing website called www.queers4gears.com back in Sept. 2009. "NASCAR is very charitable and donates lots of money to various charities each year. But if they really learnt their lesson [about Tim Richmond], then [AIDS] would be a cause they would give money to."
Queers4Gears is not the first racing website for gay racing fans – that honour goes to www.gaytona.com, run by 30-year gay couple Betty Jack DeVine and Dixie Richardson.
But the limited popularity of both sites (Queers4Gears currently draws 2,000 monthly unique visitors) suggests gay racing fans aren’t exactly prepared to show their true colours – yet.
"NASCAR has more fans who are accepting of me being gay than gays have been accepting of me being a NASCAR fan," says Myers, who – like driver Evan Darling – doesn’t wear the rainbow colours to the track. "I don’t preach about [gay] politics or gay marriage on the site; I don’t have stickers all over my car. Yes, people know I’m gay but I try to just focus on the racing. I do what I call the ‘gaynalysis’ and I call all the drivers divas. For the most part I just want to focus on the races."
When anti-gay preacher James Dobson of Focus on the Family delivered the invocation before a race in Atlanta last August, Myers took some heat for not commenting on the choice of Dobson. "Everybody wanted me to come down harshly on the track. But if I focus on who sings the anthems and complain about who delivers the invocations at every race, I’m going to be seen as a [pain in the ass]. I want to save my bullets for what matters."
Like me, Myers – accredited by NASCAR – would love to see a drag queen drive a pace car at a NASCAR race one day.
"But if there’s a gay driver in the starting grid at Daytona this weekend, I don’t see them coming out any day soon – not in NASCAR or Indycar, though I could see it happening in Formula One, with the European influence. I also think NASCAR pit crews will be more accepting of gay drivers before NASCAR fans are."
About my column two summers ago with NASCAR racer Carl Edwards ("I love all my fans – all of them!" Edwards happily told me), Myers says, "I remember that interview. Carl is very gay-positive and drivers like him are the future of NASCAR."
As for Montreal’s NASCAR race at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Myers says, "Last summer’s race in Montreal was one of the best races I’ve ever seen in my life! The storyline, that track – I’d love to come up there one day. Talladega and Montreal – those are the two tracks I really want to see."
Essential buttplug NASCAR launches its 2011 Sprint Cup season with the 53rd annual Daytona 500, which airs on Fox, Feb. 20 at 1 p.m.