NASCAR’s online community bears its ugly side
By: Isaac Donsky, Columnist
So far in this column’s brief existence, I’ve covered lighter topics relating to NASCAR. A brief introduction to the league here, a look at the NASCAR playoff field there. Topics that are family-friendly.
That’s not the case with this column. We have to talk about what happened to graphic designer Noah ‘Lefty’ Sweet, and the toxicity of NASCAR’s social media communities.
I’ll get straight to the point: On Sept. 2nd, Sweet, an avid NASCAR fan and beloved member of the NASCAR community, abruptly deleted his social media and sent out a frightening message on his personal Twitter page.
“I’m doing everyone a favor. No one will miss me years from now,” he tweeted.
Several hours later, Sweet’s brother, Gabe Sweet, tweeted out that he would keep fans posted on his brother’s status. After a few hours of tense waiting, where we all feared the worst, Gabe tweeted out that Noah had been found, and that he was ok.
After a collective sigh of relief by the NASCAR community, the love came pouring in. #PrayforLefty and #WeLoveLefty began trending on NASCAR Twitter. Driver Ryan Vargas tweeted that he would be running a special sticker on his car for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Darlington in support of Sweet.
But the big question was what had caused the incident in the first place? And that was quickly answered. Sweet had been the victim of targeted harassment stretching back to June of 2020 when he released a series of LGBTQ-themed paint schemes on TradingPaints.
TradingPaints is a website dedicated to the creation and sharing of custom racing paint schemes for the online racing simulator, iRacing. Sweet is among the most revered graphic artists on the site, with half of the top-10 most popular paint jobs on the site belonging to him. The most popular as of today is his 2020 Pride Month Special, a beautifully crafted scheme that combines the colors of driver Jimmie Johnson’s Ally Banking paint scheme with the rainbow flags of LGBTQ pride.
Sweet earned praise for his work on the scheme. But he also received hate. Lots of hate.
In now deleted tweets, Sweet detailed how he had been harassed, threatened, and belittled by NASCAR fans on social media for his pride schemes. He was called derogatory slurs, had death threats sent to him, was doxed, and even was accused of pedophilia. Sweet even alleged that some members of the NASCAR community had created private Instagram accounts that posted hateful memes about him.
The abuse that Sweet suffered finally hit a breaking point when Sweet sent out his now infamous tweet. The harassment hadn’t stopped. And that’s a big problem.
I’m going to get very serious now. This kind of behavior is unacceptable not just in the NASCAR community, but the entire world. The hatred and harassment that Noah Sweet received is unacceptable in any civilized society, and it has no place in the year of our Lord 2020.
It’s also a reminder to me that newer fans should avoid NASCAR’s social media communities like the plague.
I’ve been a member of NASCAR Twitter since 2017, and I’ve seen some nasty stuff. It seems that controversy erupts every week. People get into massive arguments instead of simply talking things out. There is bullying. Harassment. Just things that shouldn’t see the light of day. It’s a rough place, and it can drain you quickly. I’ve had to take breaks from the site on multiple occasions so far this year to escape the toxicity. It’s why I tell newer fans to avoid these communities if they’re just getting into the sport.
Before I wrap this column up, I want to emphasize something: NASCAR fans, in my experience, are generally tolerable people. We don’t care what color your skin is, what gender you are, what your sexual preferences are, or who you vote for. If you love racing, then you are considered one of us.
But not all fans share that sentiment, and frankly it disgusts me to the core that those fans are the ones whose voices are the loudest on social media. And I hope that newer fans will understand that we are not all like that.
I want to end this column by saying that if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, don’t be afraid to speak up and talk to someone. Everyone deserves love and respect, and nobody should be treated differently based on what they believe.