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Do you know that NASCAR drivers used to sit in their cars during the national anthem before races?
As President Donald Trump’s attacks on players who protest during the national anthem in the NFL became the dominant sports storyline of the weekend, NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Richard Childress were asked Sunday at New Hampshire what would happen if a driver or team member of theirs protested during the anthem.
“Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period,” Petty said. “If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”
“Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over,’’ Childress said on pit road. “Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.’’
One of Childress’ drivers is his grandson, Austin Dillon. Firing him would be awkward. Same for Paul Menard, whose father’s business bankrolls the sponsorship for his car.
But it’s curious that Petty, 80, says that people who don’t stand for the anthem should be out of the country. It was just 20 years ago that NASCAR drivers didn’t stand for the anthem. They spent pre-race ceremonies strapped in their cars.
Here’s the anthem from the 1996 Daytona 500. You’ll even see seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt sitting in his car during the anthem.
Here’s video of a 1996 race at Richmond, where drivers are clearly in their cars during the anthem because the command to start engines comes immediately afterward.
And here are drivers in their cars during the anthem before the 1997 Daytona 500.
And here are drivers in their car for the national anthem before the 1992 season finale. That was Petty’s last race as a driver.
Look, if a NASCAR team owner like Petty wanted to fire a driver or team member for protesting during the anthem, it’s his right. While the First Amendment protects people who protest during the anthem from being punished by Trump or the United States government, consequences from an employer are another matter.
But acting like standing for the anthem is suddenly so virtuous when drivers weren’t doing it for logistical reasons 20 years ago is ludicrous.
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