CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Brian France endorsed Donald Trump for president, the chairman and chief executive of NASCAR thought of it as nothing more than a ‘‘routine endorsement.’’
He has been dealing with the fallout ever since.
France’s decision to personally back the front-runner for the Republican nomination has roiled a sport his family built from the ground up. It has threatened a decade of work to broaden NASCAR’s appeal among minorities, upset one of the most powerful teams in the sport, and risked a break with the corporate sponsors that are its financial lifeblood.
‘‘I was frankly, very surprised, that my diversity efforts for my whole career would have been called into question, over this, in my view, a routine endorsement,’’ France said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
France acknowledged he has had to have conversations with sponsors since making the endorsement, which came as NASCAR is seeking a new main sponsor for its top series.
‘‘I made a few phone calls and clarified some things,’’ he said. ‘‘That kind of goes with the territory.’’
France’s appearance at a Trump rally a few days before last week’s Super Tuesday elections fits with the sport’s history of occasionally blending politics with the action at the track. France told the AP on Wednesday he backed Barack Obama in 2008 and actively participated in the campaign.
But Trump is a candidate unlike any other in recent memory, drawing intense criticism for the racial undertones of his rhetoric and policies. The billionaire has called immigrants from Mexico rapists and drug dealers, has vowed to forcibly deport the 11 million people living in the country illegally and seeks to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the US.
It’s into that cauldron that France inserted himself and his sport. ‘‘I’m not supporting him for all of his views, or his immigration views,’’ France said.
That excitement is what got Chase Elliott into a jam just two weeks into his new job at Hendrick Motorsports, where he’s taking the place of retired superstar Jeff Gordon. To the surprise of everyone at Hendrick, France was joined by the 20-year-old Elliott at the Trump rally in Georgia where he offered his endorsement.
While France does not regret his own participation in the Trump rally, he does feel badly for Elliott. ‘‘You never want to see anybody get their true positions distorted,’’ France said.
On Monday, at a North Carolina campaign rally not far from Charlotte Motor Speedway and the headquarters of many top NASCAR teams, Trump was ebullient in describing his backing from the sport. ‘‘You know, I just had a visitor backstage. NASCAR endorsed Trump, can you believe that?’’ he asked the crowd.
Except it wasn’t NASCAR that made the endorsement. It was France.
‘‘We talked to the campaign about the endorsement that I made, versus the sport, and it’s hard to get that perfectly right all the time,’’ France said.