Maybe the only out gay dirt track racer in the U.S. is a rising star. Dustin Sprouse has finished in the top five in all but one of his races this year, making him the favorite to capture Rookie of the Year.
And that’s just scratching the top of the pavement.
Sports Illustrated ran a recent cover story on Sprouse, with writer Jon Werthiem exploring all of Sprouse’s complexities. Let’s start here: Sprouse is a native West Virginian who came out in his early 20s and participates in a sport that’s synonymous with red-state America. The story begins at Raceway Park, a track buried deep in Southeast Ohio where Kentucky and West Virginia border the Buckeye State.
And he’s generally found acceptance. In fact, the warm reception brought him back to racing, which he quit shortly after coming out.
“I don’t flaunt it in people’s faces,” Sprouse told SI. “When I’m at the racetrack, I’m just another guy there competing, racing. I’m just one of the guys. What I do behind closed doors is my business, not theirs. But if you ask me, I will tell you, ‘Yeah, I’m gay.’ ”
Dustin Sprouse Is an Openly Gay Dirt Track Racer—His Life is Complicated.— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) November 23, 2021
“I actually had somebody come up to the fence, and they said to me they hope I die.” @jon_wertheim on Sprouse's complicated existence in a complicated sport: https://t.co/75UYRNdGYk pic.twitter.com/pFspOGFG1A
Growing up in Parkersburg, W.Va, Sprouse was engaged to his high school girlfriend by the time he was 18. But he called it off within a few years.
Sprouse was ready to be his true self, reassuring his concerned family he could handle himself. Sprouse’s dad has a gay brother, and was worried about his son’s safety.
“Life back then was different,” Sprouse said. “You had to run down the streets to make sure you didn’t get beat up and stuff like that. And my dad didn’t want me to go through that. I had to explain to him, the world is different.”
That doesn’t mean Sprouse hasn’t encountered prejudice at the track. He says he’s been called the f-word, and when he won his first race, a fan raced up to the fence and wished him dead.
Indeed, Sprouse lives in a world that’s foreign to most gay urbanites, including this humble writer. The SI piece also chronicles his friendship with one of his crew members, Eric Barber, who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Sprouse says he’s a Trump supporter as well.
It shows how people don’t fit into boxes. At 35 years old, Sprouse has a long future ahead of him in dirt track racing. The track is where he belongs.
“My door on my garage, it’s like the gate at the racetrack,” he said. “Once you go through there, we don’t talk about [social issues]. It’s racing. Racing brings people together. We’re not friends. We’re family. Everybody there’s family.”
Read the full story here.