Concord, NC — The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or NASCAR announced early this week that it plans to allow service animals in select races in 2018 and on every track by 2020. The move, which was applauded by disability advocates, represents an evolution of the sport into something more “inclusive,” according to a NASCAR spokesperson Stephanie Millbright.
“We see this as a massive step forward for NASCAR,” said Ms. Millbright, speaking over a conference call early Monday morning. “After all, NASCAR has always celebrated and promoted diversity on the track, and this is another way we are keeping the pulse on the changing desires of our fan base and the needs of our drivers.”
It’s unclear what prompted this controversial decision by America’s most popular racing organization, but some observers point to two recent and converging cultural events: guns and pets. Earlier this year, the state of Iowa began issuing gun licenses to the legally blind. And while critics both here and abroad were shocked by this development, gun rights advocates applauded the decision as a win for the 2nd Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. At the same time, there were several high-profile stories involving service animals in public spaces.
“It’s not hard to figure out,” said Professor James Badwater of the University of Chicago’s Badwater Institute of Public Policy and Research. “NASCAR is simply adapting the cultural changes we see in the United States. I wouldn’t be surprised if they begin allowing guns in cars and blind people to drive.”
Not everyone is happy about the decision. Surprisingly, the People for Service Animal Awareness or PSAA decried the move saying it makes a mockery of people who need services for support.
“This is a publicity stunt by NASCAR to drum up support,” said PSAA National Director Cathleen Maersk. “I mean, this makes the situation worse. We’ve fought for years and winning little victories, and now people are going to think this a joke.”
The first race to include service animals will be the Coca-Cola 600 held at North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway in late May.