The month of June has been deemed Pride Month for the LGBTQ community. Despite the NASCAR logo itself resembling a rainbow and its most iconic paint scheme of the 1990’s also being a rainbow, NASCAR has taken the stance of blissful ignorance of the month until a few years ago.

It’s only been since 2020 that the sport has made any true efforts to at least appear to be more inclusive and shed some of the less-than-desirable elements of the “good ol’ boy” roots (read: bigotry and homophobia) of the culture of some people in the sport. The year 2022, however, has raised many questions as to whether NASCAR is being sincere in their efforts to be more inclusive to a community that hasn’t always been made to feel welcome, or whether it’s more corporate pandering and virtue-signaling that most companies are guilty of this time of year.

Cases could be made for both. Last month at the All-Star Race, NASCAR had an outright embarrassing gaffe in terms of LGBTQ relations. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has been spearheading many controversial initiatives related to anti-LGBT legislation, particularly towards transgender youth, was selected to wave the green flag at the All-Star Race.

Like many sports, NASCAR and politics are joined at the hip, so the fact that a governor waved the green flag for a NASCAR race in and of itself isn’t normally a big deal. But when your sport is trying to change its image, maybe making a controversial governor a part of your pre-race festivities isn’t the best look.

NASCAR did itself no favors with a vague half-hearted apology on social media that was basically like trying to have their cake and eat it, too. The problem was the conservative fans lambasted NASCAR for appealing to the so-called “woke” crowd while the LGBT community blasted NASCAR for not directly addressing the issue. It was only when a Tweet by NASCAR columnist Jenna Fryer revealed the reason for NASCAR’s vague “apology” that NASCAR got blasted on all sides, and rightfully so.

Another example of NASCAR not exactly reading the room well for Pride month was when they released their pride month merchandise and a T-Shirt featured a borderline stereotypical phrase uttered in the LGBT community blended into a T-Shirt. While, admittedly, the shirt could be called clever and hilarious in some circles, in others it was deemed too over-the-top and stereotypical. Once again, a case could be made for NASCAR’s efforts to be more inclusive as little more than virtue-signaling.

However, as the month went on, a couple examples showed up within the sport as to why NASCAR may ultimately be on the right track to being more inclusive. At Sonoma, Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman drove a car with his sponsor, Ally, featuring a pride-friendly version of their “Better Together” company slogan prominently on the rear-quarter panels of the car. Some argued Ally should have done more, but considering they only had a small pride-friendly logo last year, this is at least a promising sign that NASCAR is evolving as a sport.

Perhaps the biggest proof that NASCAR is sincere in their efforts to be more inclusive is at their Double A and Single A levels. This past weekend at Knoxville, openly gay dirt track driver Devon Rouse made his second career Camping World Truck Series start for Reaume Brothers Racing and police-officer turned part-time ARCA racer Ritamarie Thomason came out as bisexual prior to her start at Berlin Raceway this weekend on the ARCA tour.

Now I’m sure many readers of this column are going to say “Who cares what your sexual preference is? Just drive the car!” That’s all well and good, and personally, I wish society as a whole was at that place, but the fact is we’re just not there yet, and in a sport like NASCAR, who for all the great action and moments it has provided, has been up until fairly recently been lagging far behind other sports on societal issues, this still is a big deal. Just to be open about your sexuality in a sport that sadly has far too many fans that embrace their bigotry takes just as much guts and courage as it takes to stomp down on a gas pedal continually at 200 miles an hour at Talladega, whether anyone actually wants to admit that or not.

At the end of the day, NASCAR has still got some issues to work out internally as far as better embracing the LGBTQ community and being consistent about it, but at the same time, when you’ve got sponsors and even drivers taking courageous steps thanks in part to NASCAR’s efforts for inclusiveness, maybe the sport is on the right track after all.