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IndyCar, NASCAR join chorus of concern about Religious Freedom Act

IndyCar and NASCAR are voicing concern about Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

IndyCar and NASCAR have added their voices to the local discussion over Indiana’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“For 105 years the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has engaged millions who want to celebrate the true spirit of American racing,” said IMS president Doug Boles, while also speaking for the track’s parent company—Hulman & Company, which oversees IndyCar. “IMS will continue to warmly welcome all who share our enthusiasm for motorsports—employees, participants and fans.”

Meanwhile, NASCAR’s chief spokesperson Brett Jewkes added that his racing series “is disappointed by the recent legislation passed in Indiana. We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.”

These reactions echo those made over the weekend by the NBA, WNBA and NCAA about the new law, which Governor Mike Pence signed last Thursday and goes into effect on July 1. And while Pence said it is meant to “help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs,” many think the RFRA could lead to discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. This has compelled sports leaders to reinforce their inclusive positions.

Herb Simon, who owns the NBA’s Pacers and the WNBA’s Fever, said that his franchises have “the strongest possible commitment to inclusion and non-discrimination on any basis.” NCAA president Mark Emmert said the law was “important to us because we’re an employer here in this state.” Charles Barkley, the Basketball Hall of Famer turned college hoops TV analyst, called on officials to uproot next week’s Final Four from Indianapolis.

Approximately 3,000 people gathered in downtown Indy on Saturday to protest the law, which was roundly criticized in an editorial on the front page of Tuesday’s Indianapolis Star. IMS is the home of the Verizon IndyCar series’ Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the prestigious Indianapolis 500, both of which take place in May. It also plays host to a NASCAR weekend in late July and many concerts between races. Just this week, the Rolling Stones announced plans to play there on Independence Day.