The Story of Hip-Hop and NASCAR’s Unlikely Relationship
“Fast car/NASCAR.” It’s a rhyme that hip-hop fans have heard time and time again. What those fans may not realize, however, is that the sport and genre actually have an active relationship with each other.
It’s an interesting correspondence to say the least. From rappers attending races and drivers being hip-hop fans to NASCAR apparel becoming a fashion trend and even 50 Cent second-handedly sponsoring cars, the two seemingly unrelated worlds have numerous strings that connect them.
“[NASCAR] is one of those sports where once you’re there, people understand it a little bit more,” explains Danielle Owens, Director of Entertainment Marketing and Music. “If we can get you to a track, we can get you to become a fan.”
Numerous rappers have attended races over the years. 50 Cent went to the 2014 Daytona 500. He received media coverage from the appearance due to an awkward moment with reporter Erin Andrews on pit road before the race.
Additionally, Fif’s consumer electronics company SMS Audio became an associate sponsor for two teams in the 2014 and 2015 seasons: Cole Whitt’s No. 26 car and Parker Kligerman’s No. 30, respectively.
During the campaign for the release of Migos’ 2017 single “Motorsport,” the trio extended a branch numerous times on social media by tagging NASCAR and various drivers on multiple platforms. After the Daytona 500 in 2018, they tweeted at both winner Austin Dillion and runner-up Bubba Wallace, congratulating them on their finishes.
The group later attended the spring race at Auto Club Speedway that same year and taught driver-turned-reporter Michael Waltrip how to dab. The moment received coverage from both music and sports outlets alike.
While rappers have shown more interest in NASCAR in recent years, drivers have shared their affinity for hip-hop, too. 2020 Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin is a big-time hip-hop fan, citing interests in everyone from Jay-Z to Travis Scott. He is friends with diamond-selling rapper Nelly, who he talks to frequently about the sport. “[Nelly] is a race fan,” Hamlin proclaims during an interview with XXL on NASCAR’s Media Day in February. “He watches races and asks me questions based on that.” Below you can see a photo of Hamlin and Nelly together at the Playboy Party during Super Bowl Weekend in 2015.
NASCAR and hip-hop’s relationship isn’t secluded to only the last decade, either. In 2002, following the death of TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, all three Dale Earnhardt Inc. cars ran a strip of black tape underneath their left headlights in honor of Lopes and the stripe she often had worn beneath her left eye.
T.I. joined drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart in two Chevrolet commercials in 2007. One clip featured Jr. and Stewart hanging in the infield of Atlanta Motorspeedway, with T.I. and his crew cruising through in a myriad of classic Chevy cars. The other, labeled Switcheroo, showed T.I. driving Jr.’s race car around the track and Jr. speeding through street roads in a Chevy Impala SS.
On the other side, Phillip Metz, NASCAR’s Managing Director of Entertainment Marketing and Music, has a professional history in the hip-hop space. He started off in college promoting concerts for artists such as Wyclef Jean and Run-DMC. Later on, he launched a management company that doubled as a record label called Sagestone Entertainment, which put out a handful of low-level hip-hop albums and managed former Def Jam artist Jayo Felony. “That was big because we got the work with Def Jam and construct the marketing for his 1998 release Whatcha Gonna Do, which was one of his bigger releases,” he says while recalling his early industry days. Metz has spent the last 16 years overseeing how music is intertwined into NASCAR’s existence.
NASCAR as a fashion trend has been bubbling for years, but only recently has it truly broken into the pop culture mainframe. Not only is vintage NASCAR apparel being sold at high-end prices, but rappers are pushing the trend into a fashion statement. Fabolous, known to be one of the game's more fashion-forward rappers, has stepped out wearing a Jeff Gordon sweater.
Gordon caught wind of the moment and replied, "I see you, @myfabolouslife. Like the throwback style!"
Big Sean shared these photos last year of himself in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. jacket.
Joyner Lucas wore a Kyle Busch jacket in the below promo photo.
While unlikely and seemingly out of place, NASCAR and hip-hop do exist together — and the sport wants to continue growing that relationship. “We want to grow the sport and they want to grow their audience,” Danielle Owens later adds. “It’s a double-sided partnership.”
Who knows what the future holds for NASCAR and hip-hop, but with an open mind, some 808s and about 40 fuel-injected motors, the possibilities are endless.
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