Stephen Rhodes became known to the NASCAR world a few months ago thanks to an exclusive interview by NASCAR Race Hub. Rhodes, 29, is attempting to get back into the NASCAR business, preparing himself to be the first openly-gay driver in the history of the sport.
Back in 2003, Rhodes was attempting to get his feet wet in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Unfortunately, he was only able to make two starts with an underfunded team. He took some time off to help his significant other chase his dream as Rhodes didn’t have enough sponsorship to continue chasing the dream which he had since he was eight-years old.
“It’s something that I’ve done since I was eight-years old. After meeting my significant other, he had dreams as well. He supported me for many years with my racing career and it was time for him to fulfill his dreams,” Rhodes said in an exclusive interview with Rant Sports. We took a break from racing so he could do that. Now that his dreams have been fulfilled in the restaurant business, it was just my time to go back after what I always felt like I would be doing since I was eight-years old.”
For the past 10 years, Rhodes has been out of the sport. However, he’s been staying active in racing as he’s been racing late models on a part-time basis at the Southern National Motorsports Park.
Ever since his interview aired, Rhodes’ popularity among NASCAR fans has spread rapidly. NASCAR, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards each made statements regarding Rhodes’ attempt to become the first full-time gay driver in the sports’ history. Though he’s been out since he was 17-years old, he felt like coming out at this stage of the game would benefit him on a personal level, as well as others just like him.
“I was out when I was 17, and I was out to all of the local divisions. I ran NASCAR sanctioned tracks in the late model divisions for many years while being openly gay. I think the reason that I feel like its relevant is so that, me as a person, I can feel diverse, and do something for my community.”
“Throughout my life, until I was 17 when I came out, I ran into various situations where I had problems or issues with people that just because I was gay felt like they had to act different. I think it makes me feel more comfortable with the decisions that I made. I feel like I’m having more support than I was anticipating. It’s amazing to see the support. I know that there’s going to be people that aren’t supportive. But, so far I’ve been very pleased and happy with the support.”
Now, Rhodes is trying to get back into a sport that has had numerous changes since he was last involved within in 2003. Though he didn’t totally dissolve from racing, the competition level has surely increased. He’s been in talks with several teams, and sponsors as he looks to return back to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on a full-time basis in 2014.
With the way he’s gone about this journey back into the sport, Rhodes recognizes that he’s going to be a role model for people who are growing up, being afraid of how they should come out and still do what they love.
“It definitely makes me glad to know that I’m inspiring people. It definitely puts a smile on your face. I think in life, what you can do isn’t for everyone. As a little kid, I wasn’t bad. I would take the shirt off of my back for anyone, doesn’t matter who they are. Being able to do this for anyone that’s out there is sort of good to know that you can touch lives and change people’s perception of people that don’t have any prior knowledge of it.”
Though he knows it won’t be easy when he gets back behind the wheel, Rhodes is prepared for the challenge. He recognizes that there has been plenty of changes throughout the years. He hopes to generate sponsorship based upon the uniqueness of his situation, comparable to Danica Patrick. Obviously, he isn’t going to be competing for wins right away, but if Rhodes can get the right sponsorship with the right team, he may just be able to go after his dream and bring more fans to NASCAR.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.