The journey for Ryan Hines to a career in NASCAR was a natural one, having grown up with family members who raced and claiming a hometown that’s almost a half-hour drive to Eldora Speedway.
Last week, Hines told a more complete version of his story. Hines, a 23-year-old coordinator of Xfinity brand content for Stewart-Haas Racing, told NBC Sports about his path as a gay man in the stock-car racing industry in the hopes that it would provide inspiration to others.
One week later sitting outside the No. 98 SHR hauler in the Xfinity Series garage at Darlington Raceway, Hines said the reception of his story has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Everyone’s been good, everyone I work with,” said Hines, who primarily handles the weekend public relations duties for driver Chase Briscoe. “Media people around the sport have reached out, and I get a lot of random people who have reached out, too, to say ‘hey, thanks for sharing your story,’ saying how it helped them in different ways and how it inspired them. That means a lot, and that was the whole goal of it: just to be like, ‘hey, you can do it.’ Don’t limit yourself because you think that you can’t be yourself in this sport, because you can.”
On most weekends through his childhood, Hines could be found at a race track, whether it was following his cousin’s non-winged sprint car efforts through Ohio, Indiana and Michigan or working at Eldora’s dirt high banks. Hines provided updates for both the track’s website and later its video display board.
After graduating college, Hines received his first taste of NASCAR through an internship with Hendrick Motorsports before making the transition to SHR. “I’ve just grown up around it and it’s always been a family thing,” he says. “That’s what got me into it.”
Hines says he had come out to people close to him about his sexual orientation during high school. He said it wasn’t necessarily a personal burden that prompted him to share his story with a larger group this season, but rather the hope that he might be a source of encouragement.
“I did this story to hopefully help somebody,” Hines says. “I know growing up, what gave me the courage was reading stories on OutSports.com. Seeing other people do it in other sports, that kind of told me it was OK to be who I am and to not hide it. I’ve been out since high school to everyone close to me, but I figured doing this story would hopefully help further the conversation and help somebody. If you can just help one person and it speaks to them, then it’s worth it.”
Not that the reception has been entirely rosy. Critics emboldened by Internet anonymity and keyboard courage have shared divisive remarks, but Hines has made a point to largely ignore the hatred.
“Some of the social media comments — Facebook, in particular — aren’t so kind, but I expected that and it doesn’t really bother me,” Hines says. “Not everyone’s going to be OK with it, and that’s fine, but the people who matter, who are around me and the people that I work with are great with it and that’s all that matters to me.”
Hines’ openness has been refreshing, and he says he’s happy to see others benefit from its impact. The media attention has been another piece that’s helped spread his word.
Hines, though, says he’s hopeful a day will come when stories like his aren’t news, when one’s sexual orientation is just as natural as a family-bred path to a career in racing.
“That’s what one of my friends said to me. He’s like, the point of the story is it’s not a story, and I can’t say it any better than that,” Hines says. “It shouldn’t be a story, and I do hope we get to the point where being gay is the same as being straight. There’s not really an assumption that someone’s straight; you shouldn’t have to come out, so to speak. It should just be a normal part of everyday life.”