NASCAR president denounces 'Let's Go Brandon' chant

The president of NASCAR, Steve Phelps, denounced the connection between his organization and the popular chant, “Let’s go, Brandon!” that originated at a NASCAR race. The chant has been used for about a month now so the timing of his remarks is a bit unusual. It’s too little, too late.

What seems to have caused the denouncement is the use of the NASCAR logo on merchandise that carries the slogan. It’s understandable that Phelps is diligent in protecting the logo and going after the unauthorized use of it on merchandise. The logo is trademarked. Last week, retired MLB all-star Lenny Dykstra tweeted a photo of a man who was eating breakfast at a New Jersey hotel dressed in a black “Let’s Go, Brandon” t-shirt with the motorsport’s trademarked colored bars. “NASCAR” wasn’t on the t-shirt, but the easily recognizable colored bars were.

The phrase was born in October when NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast interviewed NASCAR driver Brandon Brown after a race, his first career win at Talladega Superspeedway. Some rowdy fans in the stands nearby began to chant, “F**k Joe Biden!”, as has become popular during sporting events and other events across the country. Kelli didn’t want to acknowledge what the actual chant was from the crowd so she lamely said they were chanting, “Let’s go, Brandon!” Whether she understand the chant or not is debatable, as she was wearing headphones, but she was not too far away from the group that was chanting. The more polite version of the original anti-Biden chant is heard regularly.

Phelps spoke out Friday saying that legal action will be taken for trademark violations. He noted that the franchise isn’t interested in being associated with politics on either side of the aisle.

“We will pursue whoever (is using logos) and get that stuff,” said Phelps during a press conference at Phoenix Raceway. “That’s not OK. It’s not OK that you’re using our trademarks illegally, regardless of whether we agree with what the position is.”

“It’s an unfortunate situation and I feel for Brandon, I feel for Kelli,” Phelps said of the incident. “I think, unfortunately, it speaks to the state of where we are as a country. We do not want to associate ourselves with politics, the left or the right.”

Here’s the thing – the excuse that he doesn’t want NASCAR involved in politics is too little, too late. NASCAR fans are mostly conservative and, for example, they embraced Donald Trump. NASCAR drivers supported him when he ran for president, both times, and put their opinions on social media. If anything, these days, NASCAR tends to tilt toward the social justice movement, especially after the Bubba Wallace story.

In fact, if the bulk of NASCAR’s followers have a political bent it would be towards Republicans and conservative values. More recently, then-President Donald Trump served as the honorary race starter at the Daytona 500 last year “and the sold-out February crowd made NASCAR’s Super Bowl feel like a campaign rally until his plane flew over the Florida speedway after his command to start the engines,” NBC News reported.

In addition, several drivers and their families took pictures with Trump before the race. Also, in early 2016 as Trump’s first presidential campaign ramped up, current Cup champ Chase Elliot was among a few drivers who went to a rally in Georgia with Brian France, then the chairman of NASCAR. Several in that group, including the sport’s most popular driver, went on stage and spoke at the event.

Since then, however, the motorsport has tilted left, taking high-profile positions on several social justice issues following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. That included banning the display of Confederate flags at events following a request from the sport’s only full-time black driver, Bubba Wallace, who began wearing a shirt on pit road emblazoned with “I Can’t Breathe” and used a Black Lives Matter paint scheme for one race.

Phelps wants everyone to know that NASCAR is respectful of the office of the presidency. “Do we like the fact that it kind of started with NASCAR and then is gaining ground out elsewhere? No, we’re not happy about that,” he said.

He would have made a more believable statement if he had just stuck to the trademark issues. Everyone can understand. To come out now and say that NASCAR isn’t interested in getting mixed up in politics, though, is too little too late. That ship has sailed.