Where We Live: Mike Phillips, the National Anthem and NASCAR

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The Pocono 350 is this coming Sunday, June 28th

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland musician will make history this coming weekend at NASCAR. Mike Phillips will play the National Anthem at the Pocono 350 in Pennsylvania. It is one of the first major NASCAR events since the organization banned the confederate flag.

Mike Phillips, a professional musician based in Portland who plays the National Anthem for pro sports games. June 2020 (KOIN)

“I play at NBA games, All-Star finals, so I’m the go-to guy in sports for a National Anthem,” said Phillips.

He said playing the anthem at NASCAR has special significance because of the times.

“I said to myself, I didn’t want to do it at first, then I saw Bubba,” said Phillips. “And then I wanted to get into the fight, too.”

“Bubba” is Bubba Wallace, the only full-time African-American driver in NASCAR’s cup series. Wallace pushed for NASCAR to ban the confederate flag—a symbol of slavery and Southern racism for many African-Americans.

NASCAR agreed.

Wallace’s all-black race car now represents Black Lives Matter and unity.

Bubba Wallace, the only full-time African-American driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series, and his car that features the Black Lives Matter hashtag, among other symbols of unity and peace. (Courtesy NASCAR/FS1)

“It’s not that we’re saying other lives don’t matter,” said Wallace. “We’re just trying to say that Black lives matter, too.”

“I’m happy that they did it,” said Phillips. “And frankly, I was surprised.”

For Phillips, the first musicians to get a Nike shoe contract, playing the National Anthem at NASCAR is a chance to make a statement about African-Americans and patriotism.

Mike Phillips plays the National Anthem in an empty football stadium. (Courtesy Mike Phillips)

“I want to pay tribute to the Black servicemen. So, while I’m playing, you’ll see a shot cut to Colin Powell, Tuskegee Airmen,” said Phillips. “People with my skin color fought for this country, and then come back to fight the people who were fighting them in America.”

So, as NASCAR takes steps to become more inclusive, Phillips is a Portland connection to a national moment.

NASCAR is racing without fans, so Phillips will be giving a virtual performance that will be played on the big screen. The Pocono 350 is this coming Sunday, June 28th.

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