Author and new Facebook Friend Peter Manso wrote this for Car & Driver:
In this wacky election cycle of ours, I’m being asked by some of my academic neighbors here in Berkeley to generalize on how racers vote. My answer is simple: The majority of car people, especially racers, are righties. As evidence, I offer Richard Childress and his years of serving on the NRA’s board of directors; Roger Penske as one of the country’s herculean big-money contributors to presidential candidates; and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, who years back ran as a candidate for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, calling for the FBI to”turn up the heat” on any American failing to espouse patriotic beliefs. The question of a racer’s GOP affinity is not “if” so much as “why,” and the answer is that conservative politics mirror who and what these guys really are.
What’s the difference between a liberal and a conservative? For the quick and easy answer we must go to John Locke and Edmund Burke, the two 17th- and 18th-century philosophers who cemented the left-right distinction for all of modern times. The liberal, per Locke, believes in the perfectibility of mankind, whereas Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, a bestselling pamphlet when published in 1790, preached human limitation and the doggedness of original sin. For the conservative, government is suspect. To the liberal, society should be improved through human intelligence, which is the seed of all human progress. Conservativism sees human beings as bestial and selfish; people are basically competitive, as well as unequal in their abilities or value to society, and those who contribute most deserve greater rewards. The well-intentioned collectivism of the liberal, the conservative argues, only deprives society of its vitality and inhibits the achievement that comes with individualism.
Leave it to Richard Petty: “The majority of the people I associate with are conservative because they make their own decisions on what to do on the race car, when to make pit stops. They’re very individual people. … City people wind up more liberal because they’re depending on somebody to own their house or clean their streets.”
There have been exceptions. Ayrton Senna gave huge sums to Brazil’s poor, and Paul Newman’s charities and support of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern put him on the left. But the racer’s task, first and foremost, is to test himself. He is not a normal person, no 9-t0-5’er with the security of dental insurance, but a self-absorbed, self-enmeshed figure. His job is to live on the edge and do so unrelentingly, with the knowledge that there can be a very steep price to pay for failure. …
Like many an artist, he’s driven, and it’s not hard to see that he’s simply too focused, too self-centered to spend much time thinking about homelessness, racism, unemployment, or the unbalanced economy. “It’s me and me alone” is the mantra. …
Who do you hear more clearly here, Clinton or Trump-Cruz-Bush & Co.? It’s been said that no one with a heart can resist being a liberal, and that no one with a brain can resist being a conservative. But the answer for a racer, I think, is obvious.
You can quibble with some of Manso’s characterizations (conservatives, even non-wealthy conservatives, donate more to charity than liberals, and no one who thinks people are “bestial and selfish” is likely to support self-government) and yet still agree with Manso’s argument. American conservatism is about freedom much more than American liberalism is today.
The junction of transportation and sports is a good example. Liberals are considerably more likely to favor mass transit, the exact opposite of transportation freedom. Liberals thought Barack Obama’s Cash for Clunkers was a great idea, probably because it served to make used cars more expensive. (Obama should have been impeached for Cash for Clunkers.) Liberals favor high taxes to discourage such behaviors as driving (high gas taxes and low speed limits), smoking, drinking (Prohibition was the crowning failure of the we-can-improve-mankind Progressive Era), eating the wrong foods, owning firearms and ammunition, and other lifestyle choices of which they disapprove. Liberals are also more likely to oppose hunting and fishing, which tend to be activities favored by those who know who Richard Petty is. (He ran for North Carolina secretary of state in 1996 as a Republican, but lost.)
It’s certainly dangerous to make blanket statements about athletes and their political beliefs as far as what they are or should be. (Nor should a conservative want to politiize everything more than our world already is politicized. The phrase “the personal is political” was not devised by a conservative.) One reason why sports is vastly preferable to politics is that there are clear-cut winners and losers in sports. The human drama of athletic competition, as ABC-TV’s Jim McKay termed it, is about making yourself better, both vs. yourself (improving running or swimming times) and against your competition, the latter of which involves taking advantage of opportunities your opponent(s) presents you. The liberal obsession with income inequality and equality of result would seem the polar opposite of what world-class athletes do.