NBA player Jason Collins came out a few weeks ago with much applause and a few dissenters as expected. But it’s probably the start of a small flood of athletes in the “big three” American sports to come out as openly gay. Of course we are proud of Martina Navratilova for coming out when she did, but the sports media has been drooling for an active player in the NBA, NFL and MLB to do the same.
Blogs and media sites were abuzz with the news for a few days, but a line from this article about Collins in the SFGate caught my eye:
“Soon, the NFL, NHL and MLB and (yawn) pro golf and even, maybe, a gay NASCAR driver, a guy who surely already exists and who is right now completely terrified of getting shot if he even dares to look in the direction of Jason Collins. Poor kid.”
When I read that I was like “Hey, I know an out NASCAR driver and he isn’t terrified.” In fact he’s been out for a while and is building an impressive record at a track near my hometown and elsewhere.
I met Justin Mullikin of JM Racing in September when I was visiting my family in Wisconsin. He went to the same high school I did, albeit a lot later. I was amazed to learn that he was out in high school, something I never would have considered in the late 80s. But times have changed even in the flyover states and they’re coming out a lot earlier.
Justin was recently interviewed at Queers4Gears, a site for queer NASCAR and motorsport fans. You can find them on Facebook and Twitter at @queers4gears. I asked Justin a few more questions because I wanted you and the SFGate to know that yep, there is an out NASCAR driver. And if you make it to the end of the interview you will read Justin’s correct prediction on who won RuPaul’s Drag Race this year.
Mullikin’s interest in cars started at an early age, but he didn’t get serious about it until about 2005 on a whim. Eight seasons and a handful of cars later the 27 year-old Cheesehead is still on track:
- I see your racing season is underway. How long does the season last?
Our season began on April 20th and will continue through the first weekend in October with a 4 week break from the first weekend in September until October’s final event.
- While you’re in the Sportsmen division (sort of like NASCAR “minor leagues” if I understand correctly) do your results count towards NASCAR national title standings?
We are a points based series, meaning that every night we earn a certain amount of points. The amount of points that we earn are dependent on where we finish in the events. Points accumulated go to a standing that determines the champion for our local track at the end of our season. Along with earning points at our local track we also earn points on a national level. We are ranked nationally and compete for a national level championship in what is called the “NASCAR Whelen All American Series division II asphalt program.”
- You’re not just the driver of your vehicle – you’ve also rebuilt it yourself it for racing. Are there other people are on your racing team helping you do this?
I do have help at the track from a number of people, but for the most part I build my car, motor, paint and do everything related to the assembly of the car myself. My best Friend Bill also races and we have formed a team so to speak at the track so we share equipment and information with each other and help each other at the track and during the off season constructing the cars.
- What sort of background in automotive engineering do you have that helps you get a car ready to race?
I actually have no formal training or schooling in automotive engineering. I was always interested in cars growing up and by the time I got my license and first car I just started teaching myself and learning as much as I could by doing things on my own. Throughout the years or vowing to only fixing my own car and learning as much as I could about them I have learned pretty much everything there is to know about the mechanics and assembly of a car.
- So you’re good with machines and can drive. Are you still an “athlete”?
This is a question that regularly comes up when talking about a person who races cars for a living or for a hobby. There is far more to driving in a competitive manner than just going fast and turning in circles. The thing that people don’t understand about racing cars is they do not drive like your normal everyday street cars. Driving a car at very high speeds with manual brakes, manual steering and a suspension that is designed for maximum turning ability takes a toll on your body. Along with the physical strength required to drive the cars comes the mental strength. It takes a high level of mental focus and nerves to be able to drive a car that is in a near constant slide at extremely high speeds. Not only do you focus on yourself when in the car but what your fellow competitors are doing. It is in no way like driving down the highway to the mall. We are driving around a track at 100+ mph inches from other cars (sometimes touching) and controlling a car that is sliding, moving around and just on the ragged edge of crashing at all times.
- You mentioned in the Queers4Gears.com interview that for the most part you haven’t had any issues with other drivers for being gay. How did you handle it when they did?
Only one direct threat of action has made its way to me that I am aware of. The particular instance was never said directly to me, rather to a friend of mine who also raced. Fortunately for him he realized that at the end of the day that a.) I was a better driver and b.) I was not afraid to retaliate on track if he decided to take it there. Retaliating on track is rarely something that you as a driver want to do because of the potential for danger to yourself and everyone else.
- When did you come out?
I came out when I was 16 as a result of a friend of mine sharing our personal conversations with other people at school. I made the decision that I was going to take ownership of the situation and make of it what I chose to.
- What do you think about professional athletes coming out? Should we expect someone in other NASCAR series to come out soon?
Anytime that a person who is gay can be portrayed in a positive and uplifting manner is definitely a good thing. From a role model point of view I can see no better thing than the young people of this country viewing successful athletes they can relate to. It’s not a question of if it happens, more of when. I think that it will certainly happen but only time will tell.
- Who do you think is going to win RuPaul’s Drag Race this year?
Its Monsoon season…clearly! [Jinkx Monsoon] is by far the most talented competitor to have ever been on the show.
- Another thing you mentioned in the previous interview was “I typically don’t care if someone who has no meaning to me has anything to say,” regarding your sexual orientation on the track. That sounds like a good approach to dealing with homophobic comments. “Water off a duck’s back” as Jinkx Monsoon would say. What would you say to other athletes considering being out in their sport on dealing with homophobia?
At the end of the day it’s your life, and you should live it exactly how you see fit without letting anyone else get in your way. Being gay is nothing that will stop you from achieving your dreams or having a positive impact on someone else. Be the best you can be!