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NASCAR Mailbox: Does Religion Belong in NASCAR?

NASCAR appears to be making noise quite often this year, and perhaps not in a good way. Sparking controversy first over Brian France endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, the critics have moved onto NASCAR’s stereotypes, all of which were out in abundance at Texas Motor Speedway.

How? Look no further than the race name. The title sponsor of this past weekend’s Sprint Cup Series race, Duck Commander, is an apparel company that has the term “redneck” in its slogan.

Apparently, shying away from politics appears to be the last thing on NASCAR’s agenda.

With Duck Commander sponsorship, the Robertson family, known as the stars of the television show “Duck Dynasty,” were out in full force at Texas. After a horrific rendition of the national anthem from one of the lesser-known members of the family, Phil Robertson, NASCAR was thrust into international headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

Articles circulating the internet within publications such as the New York Daily News, Deadspin, Breitbart and even Fox News have called out the television star’s invocation, a diatribe which included the line, “put a Jesus man in the White House.”

Q: Phil Robertson had a rather interesting invocation to start the race on Saturday night at Texas. Should religion be as heavily involved in NASCAR as it is? – Mary P., Columbus, Ohio.

A: As someone who is a proud Jew, I am actually offended by Robertson’s invocation, which has never happened to me before covering the sport.

“Our faith is in the blood of Jesus and his resurrection,” Robertson said during his invocation. “Help us, Father, to get back to that.”

These words are not ones that are accepting diversity, a platform NASCAR has made a fantastic attempt at over the years. With the sport’s Drive for Diversity program each year, there have been female drivers, Hispanics and African-Americans who are being given opportunities to work on racecars throughout every NASCAR-sanctioned division.

Compare that to what we heard during a few short moments Saturday night. Heck, I don’t even know what blood of Jesus stands for.

The sentiment from Robertson, a die-hard conservative, is not what NASCAR needs. In shying away from politics after France’s infamous Trump endorsement, along with the likes of several drivers, NASCAR has done a solid job at remaining quiet. Well, at least until now.

The invocation was vastly offensive. I, as someone who is Jewish, do not pray in any way, shape, or form to Jesus. In fact, most religious Jews question his very existence. When Robertson said his unfiltered words, I was admittedly uncomfortable but like everyone else, I tried to move on and simply rub it off my shoulders.

However, I’m a journalist who covers the sport. What about fans who don’t have the same type of work connection? Where changing the channel and walking away is a two-second switch?

Religion in racing is not just a problem that occurred overnight. No. It’s more than that. It’s the culture of NASCAR.

Every week, there is an invocation before every race at each level, no matter how low of a level it is. Sitting in the media center or press box, I cannot help but notice my colleagues, many of whom are Jewish by the way, look increasingly uncomfortable. Why should that be? Why should we have to sit there and listen to a prayer call to Jesus when we do not believe in the words being said?

“There are many who oppose the act of giving an invocation before every race because they don’t like religion shoved down their throats, but the pre-race prayer is a longtime tradition that NASCAR doesn’t seem to have any interest in abandoning,” Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press wrote this week.


Clearly, the executives down in Daytona Beach believe religion and NASCAR go together quite well. No one is saying to take that away.

Motor Racing Outreach, a Christian organization, was created “to unify and mobilize believers worldwide to support the development of young people, who have a reason to face the future, singles, with a sense of fulfillment, husbands and wives, who honor one another, and create peaceful resolutions to disputes rather than bitterness and regret.” MRO has done a great job at doing just that, and it has brought the garage area closer together than ever before.

Every week, several drivers gather for Bible study, including Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, Blake Koch and others. It is a tradition that started with Darrell Waltrip and it is important that it continues as faith is a strong part of life, at least in my eyes.

However, all that progress is seemingly destroyed when enabling a voice such as Robertson to speak in a public forum at a NASCAR race. It is one thing to allow him to make an appearance and say that to a large group of fans. But when doing so during an invocation, he essentially offended NASCAR fans that are not of his faith, women and lastly, Democrats. Yes, even Democrats as he stated: “I pray Father that we put a Jesus man in the White House,” which essentially is Ted Cruz, who Robertson has endorsed.

“He said what he felt and believed and there are a lot of people that agree with him and a lot that disagree with him,” Eddie Gossage, President of Texas Motor Speedway, told the Star-Telegram in Texas. “Nowadays, you cannot say what you think because of political correctness. So I guess everyone has a right to free speech or nobody does.

“Bruce Springsteen cancels his show in North Carolina on his viewpoints [on that state’s controversial ‘bathroom law’], and a lot of people agreed with him and a lot of people disagree with him. I defend Bruce Springsteen’s rights to take his position and, if you do that, then you’ve got to defend everybody else’s too.”

While I am still greatly offended, as are plenty of people, it is way too much to ask for NASCAR to stop giving an invocation every week. It is important for the drivers and their families, teams and fans. It represents an America that the southern part of the nation greatly appreciates.

However, one cannot help but associate NASCAR with the “redneck” stereotype when turning on the race to see this insensitivity. It is obvious that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech. But as NASCAR is a private entity, it has the rights to censor what is said and who is saying it. Just look at the fines you face as a driver for criticizing the sport.

No other major sport has an invocation before an event. Usually, a handful of players will gather together and have a quick prayer circle and that’s all. NASCAR believes a pre-race prayer by comparison is something that symbolizes the beauty of the sport, as long as it does not offend anyone.

Remember, this is not the first time that Texas has seen controversy. The National Riffle Association (NRA) sponsored a race at the 1.5-mile speedway in 2013. Besides the controversy of gun laws at the time, a man committed suicide during the race in the infield.

Yeah, No Limits, Texas.

Have a question, comment, or concern about racing? Email me at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com and you may find yourself featured in next week’s column!

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“Have a question? Email me at Joseph.Wolkin@Gmail.com and make sure to check back next week when we’ll answer your questions on all things NASCAR.”

No, No, No. Is this the intro? What a bunch of bull shlitz. Are you folks trying to bolster the crap with your website not working, despite the many complaints, or are you hoping for a Jerry Jordon type response from this nut?

I can say, I am damn tired of the Jerry’s of the world and this loon, who is wow, just wow. NUTS.


Interesting how so many, mostly the Liberal media, have their knickers in a knot over Phil Robertson’s invocation prayer. Big deal! Nobody will remember it in a few weeks anyway. It wasn’t like the Reverend Joe Nelms’ invocation at the Nationwide race at Nashville back in July of 2011, when he took a page out of the “Talladega Nights” playbook and actually made the invocation entertaining, and, dare I say, one to remember. People need to chill out and give it a rest. It’s been a part of NASCAR since the beginning, and it most likely won’t be going away any time soon.

Phil Allaway

Reverend Nelms did make that invocation quite enjoyable, Ken. He came off as a legitimately welcoming pastor/family man with a good sense of humor. Far more memorable than anything the Robertson family has done (at least to me, since I don’t watch Duck Dynasty). Always good to get a legitimate chuckle out of the invocation as well since it is typically taken in a dead serious manner, no matter what. That mentality is a whole ‘nother topic that’s not really suited for this website.

In this era of inclusivity, you’re not doing anyone favors if you explicitly cater such an instance to only one group of people. That’s not just with invocations, but with things like Sprint Cup TV coverage as well. I constant stress the importance of inclusivity in my columns here.

If you have to have invocations at all, make them inclusive for everyone in attendance. As Nelms proved back in 2011, inclusivity doesn’t mean they have to be dry as heck. Admittedly, I was a little more irritated with Robertson’s political grandstanding here, which I found inappropriate for an invocation for reasons that have nothing to do with having an invocation. Phil can do that on his own time, and he has.

Speaking of Phil Robertson, yes, I know that he espouses views that are unenlightened at best (see the GQ feature with Drew Magary, where he made a boatload of controversial comments, in between hunting outings and meals, but owned up to it). Eddie Gossage knew dang well this was possible when he agreed to the deal that would have Duck Commander sponsor the race and the Robertson family playing a big role in pre-race festivities and is apparently cool with it (its unclear whether he agrees with him or not).

Lin Hunnicutt

It just seems like to me that the writer of this column did not answer any questions but made it a editorialized diabribe. With the Robertson’s you should know by now what you are getting yourself into and just roll with the flow. Personally I don’t appreciate politics mixed with religion, especially in prayers, but this is America and he was just invoking his right of free speech.

The Mad Man

I think some folks need to go live in North Korea for a while then tell me how you like the lack of prayer and public discussion works out for them.

Remember, opinions are like buttholes. Everybody’s got one and some of them stink.

Tommy T.

Check out Afghanistan…they pray 5-times a day, Mad Man!


Despite what the overly conservative NASCAR fanbase says, Joseph makes solid points all around. Yes, it is his opinion and just as you’re lambasting his “attack” on free speech, he is exercising his. You could make an argument for the continued invocation before races and also against it. Given the southern nature of the sport, I do not see it going away but should it really become a forum for whoever is conducting it to spew their thoughts? Praise whatever deity, wish the drivers and fans a safe race, amen.

Please don’t compare his thought out writing to the arrogance of Jerry.

Tommy T.

I never felt like the invocation if given in a non-denominational manner was detrimental to the sport. In fact they have done it well many times, recognizing all the major religions. Granted, there has always been some push-back from the agnostic/atheist crowd but it always seemed to me that the organization on the whole benefitted by the practice. However their practice of turning some races into a min-rally for the Republican Party has always been IMO bad business. But when they combine their overt support of the Republican’s with the invocation…that is clearly not a smart thing to do. Do they just not want democrats to feel particularly welcome?


KB, I tried e-mailing Phil Allaway a few weeks ago with a comment on an article. The e-mail came back as delayed, twice, and yes I used the information directly from the website. Since I never got a response, I have no idea if it ever went thru. I guess it goes along with other issues on the Frontstretch this year that have gone w/o any explanation or answers such as problems with the comments.

IMO, religion has always been a part of NASCAR, it seems to me. Most people going to a race know that there will be an invocation, that it will most likely be Christian based, followed by whatever “celebrity” or sponsor who paid to do the “drivers start your engines” command, which may or may not be well done depending on your opinion of said celebrity or sponsor. I remember the contrived effort on one of the news shows to plant “muslims” to try and draw an adverse reaction from the fanbase at one of the races (Martinsville some years ago as I recall). I was at the track that day – the news people didn’t get what they wanted. People just walked around the whole deal and went about their day. I’m sure the media was terribly disappointed with that. They went looking for a fight and didn’t get one. Seems to me that this is the same kind of issue.

Phil Allaway

Unfortunately, I do not recall your e-mail, Gina. It seems to work intermittently. That bites. Would have liked to see what you had to say at the time.


Thanks for letting me know, Phil. Technology is great when it works and annoying when it doesn’t. I’ll try and send it again.


Thanks Gina! Amen! I typed it AMEN!!!!!!!!! And at least Phil has some class in acknowledging…while it isn’t the fault of the contributor, he acknowledged there is a problem!

Broken Arrow

Considering that the president of TMS and the majority of NASCAR’s fan base worship a stuffed goat, Robertson’s invocation was quite reasonable. And it offered folks who don’t know what NASCAR is a chance to get on their soapboxes. I assume that includes the writer of this diatribe whose religious affiliation was unknown (and irrelevant) to me before he decided to make it an issue.

And just FYI, Christians believe Jesus’ blood was shed to redeem the sins of all mankind. As a supposedly educated man, you should already know that. And I am neither a southern redneck nor a fundamentalist Christian.


As a Christian, not ashamed, I thought this format was about racing and the drivers, owners and crew and nascar was the focal point. I respect the fact that you are Jewish, just as you should respect the fact that I am Christian. If you want to be critical of the prayer at the beginning of the race, you need to find another form of media to voice your opinions and and let the world know you are offended.


Personally, I have no problem with a pre race invocation before an activity that can, and regrettably has, resulted in either serious injury or death. I have no religious preference, and am not usually offended by a non denominational prayer. Frankly, I’m almost more offended by the horrible renditions of our National Anthem. I guess it doesn’t occur to the ‘performer’ that some in the crowd might actually like to sing along…no matter how badly…but are unable to do so because if the individual feeling the need to ‘interpret’ the anthem. I’m also, frankly, offended when I see people in the crowd stand and put their hand over their heart when “Proud to be an American’ is played. That honor should be reserved for the national anthem.

Al Sorensen

One question: Why does the name Jesus scare so many people? This nation was founded on what He taught as the cornerstone of Christianity. This once great country is disintegrating because its population is walking away from God’s saving grace. You are free to make choices on your own, but you can’t choose the consequences resulting from those choices. All you doubters and haters might want to reconsider your position on Christianity.

Kevin in SoCal

No, we were founded on the principle of freedom of religion for ALL people, not just Christians.

The name Jesus scares non-Christians for the same reason why the name Allah scares non-muslims. You never know what the people are going to do in the name of their religion. And no need to reply with all the bad things muslim terrorists do in the name of their religion, because there’s no denying Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK both think they are acting like true Christians, too. Its not the religion that is bad, is the extremist believers.

By the way, I’m an agnostic conservative. You can believe whatever you like, just don’t tell others they have to believe like you do. Just like you wouldnt accept it if others told you how to believe, either.

Doug C.

I have to listen to people saying stupid crap all the time, including their religion. I don’t agree with televised prayer, but I agree with the track president, we either have free speech or we don’t.

Free speech is sometimes ugly but it is much better than the alternative.

Fed Up

You aren’t from around here, are you Joseph? As I stated yesterday NA$CAR will take sponsorship money for
any cause, charity, or religion. That’s their diversity program! I suggest if you want future readers, that you need
to stay off topics belittling the people who have supported racing much longer than you have been alive.


I can’t say I agree with Joseph here, but I didn’t find his opinion to be offensive or belittling in the slightest.

I totally get why people felt uncomfortable with Robertson’s invocation and it was certainly out of place. That said, thank God (or whoever you want) that we live in America and both Phil and Joseph are free to express what they think.

The question of whether it was appropriate seems to be answered by the fact that it is polarizing many fans. Given a redo, I imagine NASCAR would have asked him to cut some parts out. Religion and politics don’t actually add much to the sport, so why highlight them?

Bill B

Seems to me everyone is a bit too sensitive to everything. If you do something that someone else doesn’t like it’s the crime of the century. Whether you agree or disagree with the prayer, who was really hurt by it? It seems tolerance and free speech only applies when you agree with the topic at hand. If you have a differing view than whomever is in charge of defining what is PC then people whine like it really matters. Once again, no one was hurt. I am really tired of the way things have evolved in the 2000’s. Ignore the things that you don’t agree with and just live your life and let other’s live theirs, once again, as long as no one is really being hurt by it. Personally I think including a political agenda in a prayer is a bit crass but I have the right to ignore it or flip them off for that matter.


Yeah – good point – i think we’re over sensitized to everything. I tend to go to a few races, and in NH, they sing the Canadian anthem, which honestly – i don’t even think about. But hey, they do it – and we’re in America. Point being – there’s always going to be something that bothers someone.

i think we just need to realize where the sport was born, the deep roots it carries, and sometimes the non-agreeable things that are said/done (outside of the chase…we don’t have to agree with the chase) and just move on. and, if it’s honestly that offensive, we can go do something else, there’s football, basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, indycar (…what’s left of it), chess, checkers, etc… I can understand being appalled by those idiots from duck dynasty – but really, i think we’ve got bigger things to worry about.

I want to see articles on who the next sponsor of the series will be, what the drivers union is truly all about, how the france family has ruined the sport, would actually love to see you guys get driver interviews as well. I guess my point is – i understand your frustration – i get freedom of speech, but i’d really love coverage of the sport – don’t be a victim of giving insanity the ability to have more than it’s 15 seconds of fame.



Didn’t see the Robertson invocation. In fact, only saw the last 20 laps or so of the race, but I would have expected no less from “Duck Dynasty ” king Robertson. Only in America can a clown like that get on national TV. But hey, he’s laughing all the way to the bank.


If they stop praying at NASCAR races it would offend me and I would not watch them anymore. I haven’t missed a race since 1996.

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