Parkersburg man talks about being an openly gay racing driver in Sports Illustrated | News, Sports, Jobs

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Dustin Sprouse, a Parkersburg resident, is shown in his car at West Virginia Motor Speedway in Mineral Wells earlier this year. (Photo by Zach Yost Racing Photography, provided by Dustin Sprouse)

PARKERSBURG – An article in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated features a local race car driver and the apparent cultural conflict he faces as a gay track competitor.

“I’m just an old West Virginia country boy who happens to be openly gay,” said Dustin Sprouse, 35, of Parkersburg.

The article, ” On the track “ was featured on daily coverage on si.com last week. In it, Sprouse discusses his return to racing last year and the uphill battle he faces in an expensive sport without as many sponsors, and the financial backing that goes with it, as some of his opponents.

“In fact, I had a great reaction from people” he said, noting that he had received messages of support from as far away as Arizona and Florida after the article was published.

Sprouse started racing in 1999 but quit the sport in 2010 because it was just too expensive. He dived earlier this year and won Rookie of the Year honors for the Steel Block Late Model series in which he competes on tracks in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

The latest edition of Sports Illustrated featured Parkersburg track driver Dustin Sprouse, an openly gay contender in a sport often associated with a conservative fan base. (Screenshot from SI.com)

Sponsors are needed to help him maintain his No.43 car and “Move to the next level of my dream come true”, said Sprouse. Gasoline for the car costs $ 11 per gallon and it burns at least 20 gallons per run. It goes through about six tires at $ 180 in one night.

But he’s struggling to find sponsors. The article postulates that it could be related to his sexuality in a sport whose fans tend to be conservative. Sprouse said he was not sure why, whether it was the economy, the pandemic, his sexuality, or his own worry about such a reaction.

The article was published with the help of a family friend, former Parkersburg city councilor Eric Barber.

Barber said he was approached for an interview for a PBS documentary in West Virginia on the January 6 violation of the United States Capitol. He is expected to strike a plea deal on December 16 after being charged with several misdemeanors after allegedly entering the building with a group of people protesting and trying to disrupt certification for the 2020 presidential election.

Barber said he suggested an article on Sprouse as something more positive, but agreed to do the interview if anyone looked at his friend’s story. The interviewer conveyed the idea, and it eventually ended up in front of Jon Wertheim, who wrote the article for Sports Illustrated.

Parkersburg resident Dustin Sprouse drove his # 43 car at West Virginia Motor Speedway in Mineral Wells earlier this year. (Photo by Zach Yost Racing Photography, provided by Dustin Sprouse)

“I didn’t even know Eric had done it” said Sprouse.

The friendship between the two is highlighted in the article as another contrast.

Barber was elected to Parkersburg city council in 2016 as a Democrat, but ultimately left the party, in part because of disagreements over a proposed non-discrimination ordinance that was rejected by the council in 2017. He has become outspoken on a variety of conservative topics.

Barber was also the subject of a defamation lawsuit in 2018 after a Facebook comment he made about a local resident who disagreed with an article about a boy participating in a drag show. It was later dismissed, with a judge saying the cases had been settled.

Barber maintains that his problems are with “Liberals”, not LGBTQ people.

“Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like you as a person” he said.

Sprouse said he and Barber have known each other for years and their focus is on racing, not politics or lifestyles.

“The race brings people together as families, no matter who you are” Sprouse said, noting that Barber sometimes helps his team, which also includes two women.

Barber said he focuses a lot more on running than politics these days and that’s “Had a really huge impact on my mental health. “

Sprouse is looking forward to the next racing season and trying to raise enough money to attend a weeklong competition in Florida in February for a week of racing with the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series.

“(It’s) like playing a high school team against an NFL team,” he said.

Evan Bevins can be contacted at [email protected]

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