Donald Trump has lapped the field in some recent state primaries, but he caused a caution flag Monday when he claimed that he had NASCAR’s endorsement in a speech in Concord, N.C., just miles from the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"NASCAR endorsed Trump," Trump said. "Can you believe that?"
At first glance, one might be tempted to believe it. Trump did, after all, win the endorsement of NASCAR’s CEO, Brian France, and several current or retired drivers, including Chase Elliott and Mark Martin. Martin introduced Trump at Monday’s rally.
But France has made it clear, in an email to NASCAR employees, that his endorsement was merely his own. "This is my personal and not a corporate position," he wrote, according to Motorsport, an online news source that covers NASCAR.
A NASCAR spokesperson didn’t immediately respond Monday after Trump’s comments, but a spokesman did tell The Charlotte Observer on March 1 – the day after France’s original endorsement – that NASCAR itself did not endorse Trump.
Granted, it can be difficult to separate NASCAR and the France family. Brian France’s grandfather, Bill France Sr., founded NASCAR in 1948, and it has been controlled by the France family. In 2013, a spokesman told The Sporting News that NASCAR is a private company owned by the France family but the ownership structure was proprietary.
The elder France endorsed another controversial presidential candidate, George Wallace, in 1972. But last summer, NASCAR pulled annual banquets from the Trump National Doral property in Florida, after Trump made controversial remarks about immigrants.
And Trump seems to have missed France’s email. In his speech Monday, he doubled down on the murky claim of corporate support.
"I want to thank NASCAR," Trump said. "And, you know, Brian France was with us last week at a venue and he got up on behalf of NASCAR. … For them to endorse me was really a great honor, so thank you very much."
Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, acknowledged after the speech that NASCAR itself hasn’t endorsed Trump.
Trump was in Concord ahead of the March 15 North Carolina primary election. The state is home to NASCAR and many of its racing teams, but support for NASCAR isn’t as high as it once was.
According to a 2013 report by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, about a third of North Carolinians consider themselves NASCAR fans.
Among North Carolina natives, the poll found, that number rises to 39 percent. And NASCAR fans are heavily Republican. Among people who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, the poll found, 43 percent considered themselves NASCAR fans. Among 2012 supporters of Barack Obama, on the other hand, 21 percent called themselves NASCAR fans.
Donald Trump claimed multiple times in his speech Monday that he was endorsed by NASCAR. He was endorsed by its CEO, Brian France, who went out of his way to say it was merely a personal decision – a statement echoed by a company spokesman.
Still, NASCAR is synonymous with the France family. And for several of its drivers, including well-known racer Mark Martin, to lend support also increases the public appearance of an endorsement.
We rate this statement Half True.