NASCAR CEO and chairman Brian France defended his decision to publicly endorse Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a rally last week, but told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he has also been dealing with the fallout ever since.
France, along with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and current drivers Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman and David Ragan appeared at a Trump campaign rally Feb. 29 at Valdosta (Ga.) State University. During the appearance France declared his support of Trump's bid to win the presidency.
That support generated a considerable amount of backlash including Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis, whose company sponsors one of NASCAR's three national divisions, openly voicing his concerns over France endorsing the current front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Because Trump frequently makes offensive remarks, including calling Mexican immigrants' rapists and drug dealers and saying the United States should temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, NASCAR's commitment to diversity has also been called into question.
"I was frankly, very surprised, that my diversity efforts for my whole career would have been called into question, over this, in my view, a routine endorsement," France told the AP.
France went on to say he supported Barack Obama's 2008 run for president and doesn't always agree with every policy of those he endorses.
"I supported Obama. I went to his rallies. I parted with my hard-earned money," France said. "There was a movement going on, and I was really thrilled with the idea of the first African-American president. I did the same for Mitt Romney. In both of those cases, I have never agreed with all of their policies.
"I'm not supporting (Trump) for all of his views, or his immigration views. I happen to be very enamored by the excitement he's brought and the voter turnout that it is creating."
NASCAR released a statement following France's appearance and comments at the rally, saying the endorsement was a "private personal decision by Brian."
But because France, whose great-grandfather founded NASCAR, is the sanctioning body's chief decision maker and NASCAR remains a family-owned company, his support of Trump was viewed as NASCAR indirectly backing the candidate. Confusion was furthered by Trump saying he has NASCAR's backing both at the Feb. 29 rally and one held Monday in Concord, N.C.
France reiterated to the AP that his support was his alone and not reflective of NASCAR's principles, which it promotes through its Drive for Diversity program.
"We talked to the campaign about the endorsement that I made, versus the sport, and it's hard to get that perfectly right all the time," France said.