Gay motorsports racer Zach Herrin will make his long-awaited debut in a NASCAR-affiliated race in Phoenix later today, but doing so on his own terms.
When the green flag drops to start the ARCA Menard Series race at the Phoenix Raceway, Herrin will be in the 25th position off the pole. While he'll be starting near the back of the pack, taking part in the race will be a big step forward for the 26-year-old who only recently returned to the sport he loves following a ten-year hiatus.
As he told Outsports, he'll be making his NASCAR debut as an out gay man.
"I know I have a lot of eyes on me, and all I want to do is get out there and blur everything out so I can have a great debut race," Herrin explained. "Everyone's debut races are ones that tend to stick around a little bit for drivers. For me, I just want to get out there and let my talent shine and actually show I am deserving to be there, and all of this work is paying off."
Herrin has been racing most of his life, first starting with motorcycles at the age of five. By the age of 16, he was racing professionally in the hyper-masculine and very dangerous sport. But being a closeted male in the hypermasculine world of racing proved too much for the young man. Not only did he need to focus on driving at speeds in the triple-digits, but there were off-track expectations from the public and his competitors regarding his sexuality, where racers were often expected to be heterosexual womanizers. He soon realized he could no longer safely race from within the closet and, rather than risk his life, he left his lifelong dream of competing in a NASCAR event and retired prematurely.
Eventually, though, Herrin accepted his identity and came out, first to his family and then publicly. He returned to racing as well but finding sponsors as a gay man in the expensive sport proved difficult. Eventually, Rebuy Engine and Quick Quack Car Wash signed on and Herrin was able to race.
The ARCA Menard Series is one of four series affiliated with NASCAR, and is considered a feeder series for less experienced racers to climb the ladder to the more recognized series such as the elite NASCAR Cup Series.
While Herrin told OutSports is thrilled to be back on the track in such an important race, he hasn't forgotten the community that gave him support during his racing hiatus. He hosted a charitable event in the area with the proceeds going to Phoenix Pride and is working with the LGBTQ+ community in his hometown of Greenville, S.C.
"It's been great, but I also kind of feel selfish that I haven't been involved in the years past," he said. "I feel like I always should've been there and built these relationships throughout the years. But now that I'm taking advantage of it, and helping where I can, I feel like I'm making up for time lost."