Evan Darling was barely a teenager when he talked his mom into letting him go to a BMX bike race with friends.
“Since I was a little child I was always interested in cars, bicycles and motorcycles — anything that had wheels, or wings, and goes fast — big wheel races, bicycle races, you name it,” Darling, 41, told Q-Notes. “I’ve always been drawn to it and I’ve always tried to pursue it. That’s just the way it seemed to be.”
Darling says his mom wasn’t the biggest fan of his racing. “My mom really didn’t like it and she thought it was too dangerous,” he says.
But bicycle racing wasn’t all that was destined for Darling’s future. For more than 20 years now, he’s been auto racing — for fun, for sport and for his career. As a driver in the Grand-Am Road Racing series, owned by NASCAR, Darling takes his passion to the max in some of the most exciting and internationally reknowned racing in the country.
But what makes Darling special isn’t just his talent; he’s also openly gay. It isn’t too often you see a gay driver in a NASCAR series.
“At 18 years old I came out to my parents,” he says. “I just decided not to lie about it.”
Amazingly, he says being openly gay didn’t have a negative impact on his racing as a youth.
“It was almost like a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the racing,” he says. “There was just no reason to talk about it. We didn’t socialize a lot with the other people racing.”
In the last few years, though, Darling has taken center stage as one of the best known, gay auto racers in the nation. In 2007 Out magazine named him as one of their Out 100 influential LGBT leaders in the nation.
At the same time, his new openness has cost him dearly. Like most sports, racing’s fans and drivers lean toward the conservative end of the nation’s political and social spectrum.
“It is difficult having to hear the stereotypes,” Darling says. “A lot of the people you deal with have these preconceptions about you. They think of you a certain way before you even meet them.”
While he doesn’t regret coming out in such a powerful way, Darling admits his move has put him in a precarious financial situation. Long before the economy turned south, sponsors began pulling out. Darling contributes the decline in sponsorship to his openness.
“I’m having a hard time finding companies who want to support me as a racer,” Darling explains. He says the majority of folks in racing have the support network of their families. “In this I’m unique,” he says. “I’m doing it all alone.”
He’s been reaching out to the LGBT community and progressive corporations to get the support he needs to continue his racing career.
“If I were an investment banker or a lawyer, I could probably do it alone, but I’m not,” he says. “I’m relying on my talent and my community to bring me to the next level.”
Darling says he has many fans and a lot of people happy to see him racing as an openly gay driver. “But much of that hasn’t translated into financial support,” Darling laments.
“I’ve reached the point now where I’ve burnt through all the money I’ve been saving up so I can do this,” he says. “I’m at the point where I can’t go to races and if I can’t go to races, this can’t be a career.”
Despite the financial hardships, it is clear Darling has a passion. That he is working as a sportsman while being honest and out is admirable, especially considering that so many other sports icons choose to stay hidden and closeted.
They should come out, Darling says, but only if they are comfortable.
“If they are not capable of handling the repercussions, it might not be the healthiest thing for them, especially in team sports,” he says. “That can be the most difficult because you are dealing with the same people every day and you have personal situations that could make life really uncomfortable.”
Darling says LGBT youth with dreams for an out, honest life in sport should “go for it.”
“There’s no reason you can’t do it,” he says to gay youth with a passion for racing. “Just make sure you have a good support network behind you, because it is a very expensive sport. People just don’t hand out money. You have to have experience and you have to be able to prove yourself. You can’t just be the ‘gay driver’ — you have to be good and competitive, not just different.”