CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When Brian France endorsed Donald Trump for president, the chairman and chief executive of NASCAR thought of it as nothing more than a “routine endorsement.”

He’s been dealing with the fallout ever since.

France’s decision to personally back the front-runner for the Republican nomination has roiled a sport his family built from the ground up. It’s threatened a decade of work to broaden NASCAR’s appeal among minorities, upset one of the most powerful teams in the sport and risked a break with the corporate sponsors that are its financial lifeblood.

“I was frankly very surprised that my diversity efforts for my whole career would have been called into question over this, in my view a routine endorsement,” France said Wednesday.

France acknowledged he’s had to have conversations with sponsors since making the endorsement, which came as NASCAR seeks a new main sponsor for its top series.

“I made a few phone calls and clarified some things,” he said. “That kind of goes with the territory.”

France’s appearance at a Trump rally the day before last week’s Super Tuesday elections fits with the sport’s history of occasionally blending politics with the track. France said Wednesday he backed Barack Obama in 2008 and actively participated in the campaign.

“I supported Obama. I went to his rallies. I parted with my hard-earned money. There was a movement going on and I was really thrilled with the idea of the first African-American president,” he said. “I did the same for Mitt Romney. In both of those cases I have never agreed with all of their policies.”

But Trump is a candidate unlike any other, drawing intense criticism for the racial undertones of his rhetoric and policies. Trump has called immigrants from Mexico rapists and drug dealers, has vowed to forcibly deport the 11 million people living in the country illegally and seeks to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the U.S.

France inserted himself and his sport into that cauldron. “I’m not supporting him for all of his views or his immigration views,” France said. “I happen to be very enamored by the excitement he’s brought and the voter turnout that it’s creating.”

That excitement is what got Chase Elliott into a jam just two weeks into his new job at Hendrick Motorsports, where he’s replacing Jeff Gordon. To the surprise of everyone at Hendrick, France was joined by the 20-year-old Elliott at the Trump rally in Georgia where he offered his endorsement.

A person familiar with the situation said Elliott, intrigued by the election process, agreed to an invitation from NASCAR to fly on a NASCAR plane to the event in Elliott’s home state of Georgia. It never occurred to give his team or sponsors a heads-up, the person said, and Elliott knew he was in over his head when he began receiving heavy criticism on social media.

While France doesn’t regret his own participation in the rally, he does feel badly for Elliott. “You never want to see anybody get their true positions distorted in the way that has happened,” France said.

France is also trying to protect his record on diversity. He said NASCAR has spent “tens of millions of dollars” on a program aimed at boosting the participation of minorities in the sport, among them Mexican driver Daniel Suarez, who has risen to the second-tier Xfinity Series. Some of Suarez’s corporate backing comes from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Domit, whose family’s company cut ties with Trump after Trump announced his plan to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.

After France’s endorsement of Trump, the Lebanese-born Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of Camping World, the longtime title sponsor of NASCAR’s third-tier Truck Series, wrote on Twitter: “There is no place for politics/any political endorsements in any business. Your customers and employees should have their own mind. #period.”

France’s efforts to quell criticism over a “personal and private” decision have also been complicated by Trump’s continued mentioning of receiving “NASCAR’s endorsement.”

On Monday, at a North Carolina campaign rally not far from Charlotte Motor Speedway and the headquarters of many top NASCAR teams, Trump was ebullient in describing his backing from the sport. “You know, I just had a visitor backstage. NASCAR endorsed Trump, can you believe that?” he asked the crowd.

Except NASCAR didn’t make the endorsement. It was France.

“We talked to the campaign about the endorsement that I made, versus the sport, and it’s hard to get that perfectly right all the time,” France said.

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