PINE HALL — The dusty parking lot at 311 Speedway was almost empty two hours before sunset on this warm, hazy Saturday evening.
Races at the half-mile red-clay oval had been abruptly canceled at the track that advertises itself as “The Daytona of Dirt.”
Only about a dozen vehicles sat parked out front near the main gate, among them a tan Chevrolet Colorado pickup. The truck’s bed full of nine 4-by-8-foot signs that had been taken down from around the track this week.
“I’ve lost all but two of my sponsors,” track owner Mike Fulp said. “I’m responsible. I’m responsible for trying to make some jokes. But the world is mad as hell right now.”
Fulp, 55, of Lawsonville, made national news this week after posting an advertisement on social media for “Bubba rope” the day after an FBI investigation ruled that noose at the end of a garage door pull rope at Talladega Superspeedway was an awful coincidence and not a hate crime against Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series.
People who took a deeper dive into Fulp’s previous Facebook activity found other racist comments. Screenshots of the posts — which were deleted — went viral.
“I received death threats this week, all week long,” Fulp said. “People called and left messages, threatening me, threatening my mama, threatening my granddaughter. My girlfriend got threats. My employees got harassed. I had seven employees quit.”
Fulp said he canceled Saturday’s planned “Stand for America” promotion and racing for safety reasons. Earlier in the week, the name of the promotion had been changed from “Heritage Night,” a response to NASCAR banning the Confederate battle flag from its Cup races.
“They went on my website and contacted all my sponsors,” Fulp said. “They found pictures of racecars here, and said they’d contact anyone who sponsors the racecars and give them hell. … My business rating on Facebook went from a 4.5 down to 2.2 with people leaving bad reviews. They destroyed it, man.”
In addition to losing sponsors, the Carolina Sprint Tour series announced it would not run scheduled races at 311 Speedway because of the racist posts.
And the track came under state scrutiny as well.
“This incident of racism is horrific and shameful,” Ford Porter, a spokesman for Gov. Roy Cooper, wrote in an email this week to RockinghamNow.com. “North Carolina is better than this. As to the operation of the raceway, the mass gathering limit should be enforced by local authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan allows for outdoor gatherings limited to 25 people.
Fulp said he knows his troubles are self-inflicted, but that he meant no harm.
“I was trying to be funny, trying to make jokes. Because I really do have four of those Bubba Ropes (a brand name of synthetic winch line) I’m trying to sell,” Fulp said. “… They went on Facebook and used that (picture of a) noose out of a NASCAR garage and put it in my (post). They took a joke and made it racial.”
Fulp paused a moment.
“I’m not a racist,” he said. “I’m not a racist. I don’t know how they …”
His voice trailed off, and he broke down and cried in deep sobs for next 19 seconds.
“I never want to hurt anybody or anything,” he said at last. “You know, there was a rat out there, running around outside here for two weeks, living under the shed. I had people working here telling me, ‘Mike, you need to kill that rat.’ But I couldn’t even bring myself to do that. I don’t want violence. I can’t stand violence.”
Fulp said he plans to reopen 311 Speedway, perhaps as soon as next Saturday, and follow the state’s coronavirus guidelines. He said he wants “low-profile” racing, and he plans to stay off social media.
“It breaks my heart, man,” Fulp said. “Because I see a lot of hate. I don’t want nobody to hate me. I’m not a bad dude.”
Contact Jeff Mills at (336) 373-7024, and follow @JeffMillsNR on Twitter.
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