By: Mikey Rox/TRT Special
Professional racecar driver Evan Darling is at a crossroads in his career: his engine is revved, but he’s running out of gas.
“The LGBT community has been very supportive and happy to see me doing what I am for the community – just not financially,” says the 42-year-old openly gay athlete.
And it’s that lack of sponsorship that may force the adrenaline junkie to trade in his fire suit for a grease monkey’s jumpsuit sooner than later.
“Things are not looking good for next season and I may have to go back to being a mechanic,” admits Darling, who competes in NASCAR’s Grand Am series. “I have had many say I would not get support, and I would hate to prove them right. I will always put effort into trying to get sponsors and race on a pro level – and I have put all of my resources into it over the last few years. But the well is dry.”
It’s not as if the Massachusetts-born, Oakland Park, Fla., resident hasn’t tried to secure sponsors, either.
Darling says he has approached LGBT political supporters to sponsor him – with the promise of using their money to place a large Trevor Project logo on his car to bring awareness of the initiative to race fans – but they’re not typically interested in sporting events.
Which is interesting considering how Gay Inc. makes a big stink about wanting pro athletes to live and play out and proud.
Yet it seems to obtain sponsorship one must create a spectacle; it’s just not worth it to Gay Inc. investors if the gay athlete isn’t making a scene.
“I told my publicist I would be way more popular if I wore a pink sequence blouse under my racing suit,” Darling quips. “But that’s not me; I’m a regular guy that happens to be gay.”
Much to the chagrin of his teammates, too. Professional sports are notoriously homophobic – and perhaps none more so than NASCAR, which caters to rednecks, rappers and religious organizations, groups that aren’t particularly fond of the LGBT community.
“Many people have made derogatory remarks about my sexuality. I was fully expecting that going in [to racing],” he says. “I am a mechanic by trade and have had to put up with this mentality my whole life, so it’s not new to me.”
In fact, Darling’s dealt with bigots since birth.
His father, an attorney, represented the Irish American War Veterans in preventing Boston’s LGBT community from participating in its annual Veterans Day parade. His brother, Brian, director for U.S. Senate Relations for the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, famously feuded with Rosie O’Donnell on “Larry King Live.” And his mother, well, she’s still in denial about her son’s sexuality.
But at least he can shrug that last one off.
“Things are a bit better now between us,” he says. “I visit them at Christmas and sometimes if I am in the area I stop in. I also call them every week as they’re getting up there in age.”
Darling’s tepid relationship with his family is indicative of how he’s approaching this new chapter in his life – one that may see him fixing cars instead of racing them. Much like his parents, he suggests, NASCAR just isn’t ready for a gay driver – and, as he’s realized, there’s nothing he can do to change the minds of the unwilling.
“I think it would be great for the sport and the LGBT community,” he says, contemplating what would happen if someone like Sprint Cup superstar Jeff Gordon came out of the closet. “[But] there would be huge fallout from the NASCAR community. It would be very difficult for anyone that came out with that kind of career. I’m sure it would be interesting to see how his sponsors would react.”
The truth is, some of his current sponsors would abandon him. But with the media frenzy an announcement of that caliber would create, new sponsors would step up to the pit, checkbooks in hand – and none faster than Gay Inc.
Because as Darling knows all too well: “It’s all about the bottom line.”
Even if that should be, “supporting the community that supports you.”
*Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Paper Rox Scissors, a copywriting and creative consulting company in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.