One of the great stories to come out of the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series season was independent driver Brandon Brown's improbable first career victory at Talladega Superspeedway. Driving for his family-owned team, Brown took the lead late in Talladega's fall race and was in first by inches at the time of a late caution when impending darkness prevented a final restart.
For Brown, it was a vindicating and emotional upset win -- and one that also made him an unwitting player in America's ongoing culture war.
During his post-race interview, a group of rowdy fans began a "F--- Joe Biden" chant, which was misheard by an NBC reporter as "Let's Go Brandon". The gaffe quickly went viral and has took on a life of its own. Over two months afterwards, the "Let's Go Brandon" catchphrase has become a rallying cry for political and media opponents of President Biden. It has also had unfortunate effects on Brown's racing career.
Speaking in an interview with Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal, Brown stated that the "Let's Go Brandon" slogan and his subsequent rise in notoriety has made it difficult for him to acquire sponsorship. Brown, who has raced full-time in Xfinity for his family's team since 2019, has found that brands are hesitant to associate themselves with someone who has been dragged into the political arena.
Here's what Brown said, via Sports Business Journal:
"It's hard for a brand to want to attach to somebody who might be kind of divisive in their consumer base. If I'm going to divide Coca-Cola, why would they want to talk to me? So the short answer is it's been tough to connect with partnerships just because it's kind of viewed as a ticking time bomb: 'What is he doing to choose or say and how would that effect our consumer base?' It's too much of a risk.' I understand it on their side but it's made it really hard to tie everything down."
Considering his circumstances as an independent driver, Brown is especially sensitive to the matter of sponsorship. Earlier in 2021, Brown's team was in danger of being shut down due to a lack of sponsorship, leading to the 28-year old from Woodbridge, Va. making a used car salesman-style ad to promote empty space on his car that ended up going viral.
In the past week, Brown has gone on a media tour to try and re-claim the narrative that now surrounds him. He was the subject of a New York Times piece entitled "Brandon Just Wants to Drive His Racecar", and he also wrote an op-ed for Newsweek in which he opened up about laying low and declining numerous press requests, admitting he was "afraid of being canceled by my sponsors, or by the media, for being caught up in something that has little to do with me."
Brown noted to the New York Times that he is a Republican, but he also made clear that he has no desire to be involved with politics. He has even received consultation from NASCAR on how to deal with the highly-delicate situation.
"The unfortunate part is it's my name and my career that are at stake and the risk is high. If I do something wrong in this arena, my name as a driver falls off very fast," Brown said. "Even a career in NASCAR if I didn't make it as a driver, trying to get another job in the community, I'm always going to be the 'Let's Go Brandon' guy. I'm always going to be known for that and how I handled this situation."
Since going full-time in Xfinity racing, Brown has gained an on-track reputation as an overachiever with a small team. Driving for Brandonbilt Motorsports, Brown made the playoffs in 2020 before scoring career-highs in top fives (three) and top 10s (nine) along with his first win in 2021. Brown's achievements have come with limited sponsorship from companies such as Larry's Hard Lemonade, Trade The Train, and others.