NASCAR Bans Confederate Flags

NASCAR officially banned the display of Confederate flags at its events and properties Wednesday.

In a statement NASCAR said: “The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

The ban was widely anticipated after driver Bubba Wallace, who is black, advocated from the move this week.

“What I’m chasing is checkered flags, and that was kind of my narrative,” Wallace said in a Monday interview with CNN. “But diving more into it and educating myself, people feel uncomfortable with that, people talk about that — that’s the first thing they bring up.”

“My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags,” he added. “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”

NASCAR has its roots in the South and confederate flags were predominantly displayed.  One of NASCAR’s oldest venues, Darlington Raceway once hosted the Rebel 400 with the confederate flag featured on race programs, advertising and flown around the track. “Dixie” was also played as the soundtrack at pre-race ceremonies.

In 2015, after a white supremacist killed nine African Americans inside a Charleston, S.C., church, then-NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France referred to the flag as an “offensive and divisive symbol.” NASCAR members were prohibited from displaying it, and fans were strongly discouraged from doing so, though not outright prohibited.

The latest motivation comes after the death of George Floyd, an African American man, while in police custody in Minneapolis. His death spurred protests across the country. Sunday Wallace wore a “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt prior to the race at Atlanta a reference to the words Floyd spoke before he died as a police officer kneeled on his neck.  Prior to the race the field was stopped along the frontstretch and the engines were silenced.  Crew members stood on the pit wall as a message from NASCAR president Steve Phelps was shown on the Fox broadcast.

Then as the field rolled off to begin the race, a video featuring a number of top drivers vowing to “listen and learn” was aired.

The video includes seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Wallace.  Drivers had already posted it on their social media accounts.

“The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others in the Black community are heartbreaking and can no longer be ignored,” the message said.  “We are committed to listening with empathy and with an open heart to better educate ourselves. We will use this education to advocate for change in our nation, our communities and most importantly, in our own homes. Even after the headlines go away.”

Greg Engle