- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Confederate flag has long been a part of the scene when it comes to NASCAR, the racing league with a good old boy fan base and deep roots in the rebel culture of the South.

But times change, says NASCAR’s lone black driver, and racing fans need to put away a symbol that for many has come to symbolize only hatred and racism.

Driver Bubba Wallace, who is black, said in an appearance on CNN Monday that in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, NASCAR needs to “get rid of all” the Confederate flags at its tracks — urging officials to ban the flag.

“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race,” Wallace said. “So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”

The 26-year-old Alabama native’s comments came the same day the  U.S. Navy announced a ban on the Confederate battle flag from public spaces aboard ships, aircraft and submarines, which followed a similar decision by the U.S. Marine Corps.

From the military services to college campuses to local and state governments, officials face growing pressure to dissociate with symbols of the Confederacy. 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam last week announced plans to remove the giant statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, while some anti-racism protesters took action into their own hands by knocking down a Confederate statue from its pedestal in a city park over the weekend.

On Monday, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins called for their alma mater, Clemson, to remove John C. Calhoun’s name from its honors building due to the former vice president being a proponent of slavery. The two NFL stars shared a petition urging Clemson to change the building’s name.

NASCAR has not publicly commented on Wallace’s remarks, but Sports Business Journal reported the league is “actively considering” banning the flag from its facilities. NASCAR already forbids the flag on merchandise and its race cars.

Five years ago, NASCAR asked fans to not bring the Confederate flag to its tracks after images circulated of Dylan Roof, who murdered nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, posing with the flag. NASCAR even offered a trade-in program in which fans could swap the symbol for their choice of an American flag. But that did little to dissuade many.

Wallace said Monday he was not initially bothered by the Confederate flag, but said he understood why people “feel uncomfortable with that” after doing more research. 

“We ask nicely the first time,” Wallace said. “If they don’t agree, then you have a nice day and get on back on the road where you came from. It should not be allowed.”

Wallace isn’t the first driver to come out against the flag. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were among the sport’s prominent racers to deem the symbol offensive in 2015. “There isn’t a place for the Confederate flag in NASCAR,” Gordon said then.

Before Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR president Steve Phelps delivered a message over the loudspeaker in which he urged fans and drivers to “stand against racism” and recognize the pain black people and people of color have gone through.  A moment of silence for Floyd’s death followed. 

Wallace, too, wore a shirt that contained “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” on it and wore a mask with the American flag. A  black NASCAR official took a knee during the national anthem. 

During his interview, Wallace said he looks forward to meeting with NASCAR officials to discuss banning the Confederate flag. He said he knows the idea will be unpopular among the sport’s primarily white fan base.

“We should not be able to have an argument over that,” Wallace said. “It is a thick line that we can not cross anymore.”

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