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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Openly Gay NASCAR Driver Evan Darling

By John Billow -

If there is a less gay friendly sport than nasCar driving, I don’t know what it could be. It could be argued of course, that there aren’t ANY sports that are totally gay friendly, with the obvious exception of figure skating. Still, of the "Big 4" sports, Basketball, Football, Baseball, and Hockey, how many openly gay players can you name? Oh sure, there are a few here and there who have come out once they retired, but for the most part the locker room closet door remains tightly locked.

Now, let’s take a look at the auto sports. We can express the expected number of out gay race car drivers in the following mathematical formula:

Homophobia in most sports = rednecks + beer/brain cells to number of missing teeth. Once you plug in real numbers we can expect one that is somewhere south of zero. Surpris- ingly, in the car racing category this isn’t the case, because there is at least one openly gay professional driver out there.

Evan Darling, 42, has been a racer for 16 years and has won multiple divisional titles and has competed in both sprint and endurance races. As a kid he raced BMX bikes, moving up to motorcycles, then graduating to cars, eventually joining the racing body known as the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). His impressive record includes wins at Daytona, Sebring, and a top 10 placement at the Koni Grand Am Challenge. Darling isn’t just a driver like pretty boy Jeff Gordon, he’s also an ASE certified master technician.

Although he has never made a big issue of his sexual- ity, Darling has been out since he was 18 years old. It was a difficult time for him, his conservative parents sent him to psychological counseling in order to fix him. At the same time, his brother joined anti-gay organizations while at college and continues to oppose LGBT rights as a leader in the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation.

The reaction from his family was tough for him. "I felt disowned and decided to move to New York with the person I was dating. I enrolled in Architecture and Art classes at Parsons School of Design, but I couldn’t afford to work and go to school and had to drop out."

Eventually Darling found his way back to his love of cars and racing. He landed a job at Ferrari, and entered the field of professional racing. It was a tough transition for him because, even though NASCAR is the largest and fastest growing sport in the country, it isn’t exactly known for the progressive attitude of the drivers or the fans.

Being openly gay has been a challenge in his relation- ships with fans and sponsors alike. In an interview last year he said: "It’s a good old boy network and the last couple of years it’s been tough to get cars and sponsors. I’m hoping that by telling my story, some folks in the gay community will step up and support my team. I’m the gay Danica Patrick looking for his David Letterman."

Despite the challenges he faces, Darling continues to do what he loves, and perhaps makes a difference in the lives of people who may not have any other LGBT role models. It’s very possible that kids who grow up in NASCAR-loving families, may not have access to cable networks like LOGO. He’s quite aware of the potential impact he may have as a role model for LGBT kids and teens, that’s why The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organiza- tion targeting LGBT youth, has been one of his sponsors.

Will professional racing pass the likes of figure skating and softball to become the LGBT commu- nity’s favorite sport? Probably not anytime soon, but in the meantime it’s good that kids and adults in NASCAR homes everywhere have a positive role model to look up to and to make them realize that being gay doesn’t have to mean that everyone wears rainbow thongs and feather boas.



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