Gay racer Evan Darling needs major sponsors to keep his motor running
mikey rox | [email protected]
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 NASCAR athlete.
A lack of sponsorship 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.”
Darling had his first pro race in April 2007, finishing 7th out of 37 starters, and raced Daytona in 2008. He was also on the Out 100 list in 2007.
But since 2009 he’s been almost raceless on the circuit. He’s secured local sponsors in Florida races, but none big enough to foot the $450,000 price tag needed to fund a full season. If he doesn’t snag the money before Jan. 5, he’ll miss the first race of the season and probably have to go back to being a full-time mechanic.
“I’m at the end of my financial ability to survive and will need to start over,” he says.
It’s not been for lack of effort. Darling approached LGBT political supporters with the promise of using their money to place a Trevor Project logo on his car to bring awareness of the initiative, but such supporters are not typically interested in sporting events… odd, considering that Gay Inc. makes a big stink about wanting pro athletes to live and play out-and-proud.
“I told my publicist I would be way more popular if I wore a pink sequin 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. Professional sports are notoriously homophobic, perhaps none more so than NASCAR, which is perceived to cater to rednecks, rappers and religious organizations — groups not 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 childhood. 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 is director for U.S. Senate Relations for the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, which famously feuded with Rosie O’Donnell on Larry King Live. Even his mother is 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, changing the minds of the unwilling is an uphill challenge.
“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 reality is, some of his current sponsors would certainly abandon him. But with the media frenzy an announcement of that caliber would create, new sponsors would surely step up to the pit, checkbooks in hand — probably 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.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.