NASCAR ready to remove Confederate Flag

By Jonathan Ingram, The Sports Xchange

Does the Confederate flag belong at NASCAR races?

Not anymore.


It has become a divisive symbol as well as a remnant of a South that fought to protect the institution of slavery.

Among those people the flag offends is Brian France, chairman of NASCAR, who has aggressively sought a leadership role in response to the events in Charleston, S.C., where nine blacks were murdered at a church in the name of race war and the Confederate flag.

France has offered heartfelt reasons why the sanctioning body will do its best to make the Confederate flags that have often flown in the infield at races a thing of the past.

"Obviously we have our roots in the South, there are events in the South, it's part of our history like it is for the country," said France in an Associated Press interview. "But it needs to be just that, part of our history. It isn't part of our future."


This weekend at the Daytona International Speedway, which is owned by the France family's International Speedway Corporation, the track will offer to trade the American flags for Confederate flags. Having sold tickets without a prohibition on any type of flags, track president Joie Chitwood said that was the only fair way to handle this weekend's event, which is being held in the central Florida birthplace of NASCAR.

Though it has always conducted races outside the South and is currently dominated by drivers from California and the Midwest, NASCAR has always been perceived as a southern sport due to its roots and, well, things like Confederate flags at the races.

NASCAR's current stance is the culmination of a longtime stated intent to make sure its turnstiles and teams were open to all Americans, including blacks. It began in earnest when longtime NASCAR president Bill France Jr. attended the announcement in Charlotte by DiGard Racing in 1986 that Willy T. Ribbs would become the driver of its Chevrolets.

Before that, NASCAR awarded black driver Wendell Scott the credit for his victory in Jacksonville, Fla. in 1964 despite protests from white drivers. Scott may have missed the victory lane celebration and the trophy due to those vehement protests, but NASCAR gave him credit in the official results. He may have suffered innumerable humiliations and hardships by competing during the days when racism was part of American culture in general and southern culture in particular, but Scott started 495 races over the course of 13 years. His fortitude earned him a place in NASCAR's Hall of Fame in Charlotte.


When Bill Lester became the first black driver to compete in NASCAR since Ribbs in 2006, then NASCAR president Mike Helton was present at the media conference at the Atlanta Motor Speedway to express the sanctioning body's support. The sport's diversity program since then has been not only well known but effective.

The past may always be with us and not even past, to borrow a viewpoint from William Faulkner, but it doesn't have to haunt and defame the present.

Like states in the South, albeit far larger and more significant political entities, NASCAR finds it important to progress beyond certain images of the region where it was born and continues to do business regularly. It makes sense economically, but only when the sentiment is authentic.

The sanctioning body's solid stance on the Confederate flag is yet another test when it comes to leadership being able to inspire the majority who want to do the right thing and separate them from the minority who would do wrong.

One tends to be optimistic that NASCAR and its promoters will eventually succeed in eliminating the battle flag of the Confederacy despite the inevitable short term conflicts likely to be present in such southern bastions as the Daytona track and the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. It remains to be seen if the effort means a ban on just one type of flag or all flags in the infield at races, which would be a shame for those who want to support their teams past and present or honor America with the American flag on weekends such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.


There can't be any illusion that the minority who harbor racist hatred will simply go away. Or that somehow they won't show up at a NASCAR event. But also there shouldn't be any doubt that the vast majority of NASCAR fans are hard working individuals who believe in the American way and do not see a race weekend as some illusory trip into a haunted past.

Ultimately, it is a sense of shame that will likely prevail. The temporary neighborhoods that are established in infields at racetracks are not likely to want to be blighted by the small minority who just don't get it. Racing in general is not often associated with the concept of moral courage.

But in this case, one hopes the flag of racial division no longer sees the light of day without having to eliminate all flags.

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