Griffin Maxwell Brooks is on a mission to “yassify” the straight world. The queer Princeton diver wields the power of their popular TikTok account to turn straight cultural cornerstones such as Bass Pro Shop hats and Pit Viper sunglasses into more gay adjacent products.
So naturally, when Brooks was thinking of brands to “yassify” earlier this year, NASCAR came to mind. Auto racing has historically been an exclusionary space for LGBTQ people and other minority groups. After all, it was just two years ago when NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from flying at racetracks.
In other words, NASCAR seemed prime for some “yassification” honeyyy.
“Super simple concept: think of this as a marketing pitch, very Shark Tank: YASCAR. I think it would be great for branding,” Brooks said in their viral video.
NASCAR listened. Right before Pride Month, Brooks received an email from an LGBTQ person working for NASCAR with some surprising news: YASCAR was a reality.
They wanted to give Brooks credit.
“I love it,” they told Outsports. “I am an athlete. I dive for Princeton. I’m one of very few gender non-conforming people in swimming and diving in the Ivy League — in athletics in general it’s pretty rare to see queer people, let alone gender non-conforming and trans people.”
That’s especially true in NASCAR, though out gay driver Devon Rouse is trying to change that. Growing up, he never thought he would belong in the hetero-dominated world of auto racing.
But when he saw the rainbow scheme come into NASCAR’s logo three years ago, it started to alter his outlook. He’s a proud part of the YASCAR campaign, but believes marketing strategies are no substitute for tangible advocacy.
“It’s great they’re trying. It’s great they’re giving an effort,” he told Outsports. “But there’s a lot more that needs to happen.”
NASCAR kicked off Pride Month with a vague apology to the LGBTQ community over “recent actions,” which reporters quickly surmised was referring to their decision to host Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway last month.
Though the apology was weak, it indicated that NASCAR was making more of an attempt to reach LGBTQ racing fans. NASCAR has partnered with Jeff Parshley’s “NOH8 Campaign,” and driver Jennifer Jo Cobb raced at Daytona with the decal on her car.
Two years ago, NASCAR partnered with The Trevor Project.
That’s the kind of action that Rouse would like to see more of — not just with NASCAR, but with every corporation that wraps itself in Pride colors this time of year.
“That is not how this works,” he said. “What are you doing to help find a cure for AIDS? What are you doing to help this foundation for this? What they’re getting away with is a very cheap marketing ploy, in all honesty.”
While corporations may affiliate dollar signs with Pride Month, they also face backlash for publicly affirming LGBTQ people. The YASCAR campaign has encountered some brutal pushback, with homophobes wailing about “wokeness” and other Fox News buzzwords.
But NASCAR, to its credit, isn’t bowing to the loudest bigots in the room.
NASCAR is committed to “yassifying” itself, thanks to some bold LGBTQ employees.
“In the midst of corporate pride being a point of fair criticism, it was sort of refreshing to have a point of contact with queer people at a really big company whose fanbase is typically not that embracive of queer people,” Brooks said.
What separates YASCAR from other Pride Month gimmicks is that it started organically. Brooks, who boasts more than 1 million followers on TikTok, genuinely speaks to the young LGBTQ community.
Here is how they pitched YASCAR merch on their TikTok account: “Vroom vroom, gay. Rev up those poppers, because this Pride I’m partnering with NASCAR to make these YASCAR shirts to help make motor sports a little more slay.”
That’s a little cooler than some Bank of America voiceover saying “love is love,” don’t you think?
Brooks believes that visibility is power. As far as YASCAR is concerned, it’s safe to say they accomplished their mission.
“I think the exposure is really necessary, especially in motor sports, where the kind of thing doesn’t get any exposure,” they said. “I’ve always believed that existence is protest when it comes to the LGBTQ community. Being out, loud and visible is the first step towards queer liberation for a lot of people.”