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The Confederate flag isn’t as prominent at NASCAR races as it used to be.
Though NASCAR has taken steps to help phase it out — it does not allow the use of the flag in any official capacity and started encouraging fans to stop bringing them to races in 2015 — some fans still bring the Confederate flag with them to the track.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody late last month, which has not only sparked massive protests across the country but also a much larger conversation about race and racism in the United States, it may be time for NASCAR to take a harder stance.
The sanctioning body held a moment of silence amidst the protests ahead of Sunday’s race at Atlanta. Cars were stopped on the track on the pace laps and NASCAR president made a speech about racial injustice.
Bubba Wallace, the only black driver who races full-time in NASCAR’s top three series, wore a shirt with Floyd’s last words “I can’t breathe” before the race. Monday night, he appeared on CNN with Don Lemon and said the Confederate flag has no business being at NASCAR races.
“We are trying to figure out next steps. My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags,” Wallace said. “There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family that feels some type of way about something they have seen, an object they have seen flying.
“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.”
The Confederate flag is widely seen as a racist symbol in the United States, and — along with other similar symbols and statues — has been slowly removed from public places and government buildings over the years. The U.S. Marine Corps finally prohibited it’s use in nearly all public displays on Friday, too.
While Wallace said he wasn’t upset when he’d see a Confederate flag at the race track, he understands why someone would.
“I wasn’t bothered by it, but I don’t speak for everybody else. I speak for myself,” Wallace said on CNN. “What I’m chasing is checkered flags. That was kind of my narrative, 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.
“There’s going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly, but it’s time for change. We have to change that.”
NASCAR races are currently being run without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though 1,000 first responders and military members will attend Sunday’s Cup Series race at Homestead, there is no timetable for fans to be able to return to the grandstands and infield camping spots at races this summer.
That lack of fans gives NASCAR time to make a decision on the Confederate flag if it wants to outright ban the flag from races. Yahoo Sports has reached out to a NASCAR spokesperson regarding any potential changes to the sanctioning body’s stance on the flag.
Wallace encouraging others drivers to speak out
Wallace has spent much of the last week encouraging other drivers to speak out ahead of NASCAR’s efforts to make a statement on Sunday. Wallace told Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Junior’s podcast that he had been texting with drivers and told them that they didn’t want to be the guy who stayed silent on huge issues in the United States.
“I said a few drivers — a very few — have given their opinion on the day’s matter and I appreciate that. But the silence from the top drivers in our sport is beyond frustrating. All of our drivers — our sport has always had somewhat of a racist label to it. NASCAR, everybody thinks redneck, Confederate flag, racists. And I hate it. I hate that because I know NASCAR is so much more. I said do you all not care about what’s going on in the world? That’s not the right way to go about it. Our voices carry so much more weight than Joe Schmo from down the street. I mentioned we’ve got to do better, we’ve got to step up for everybody to say what they feel.
“At the end of the day this is way more important than any race win, any championship that you’d ever accomplish. This is something that can change on a global impact. So imagine that. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who went out and won a championship in a horrible year but never made a comment on the issues that we are dealing with in our society. And maybe being the only guy. I wouldn’t want to carry that burden.”
Myriad drivers participated in the “Blackout Tuesday” movement on social media. The moves for drivers to not stay silent during the protests comes after there was a lot of silence in the days after Kyle Larson said the N-word during a virtual race on April 12. Larson lost his ride two days after he said the racial slur.
Wallace said that a video released before the race of numerous drivers speaking out against racial injustice and advocating to do more to address it was the idea of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has been one of the drivers speaking out over the past week.
“I find the more I listen, the more I learn,” Johnson said Friday. “There is a lot of noise out there right now obviously, but when you sit down and listen, you realize a lot of the injustices that take place across a broad spectrum. As a figure of our sport and somebody that’s just a citizen that cares in this country, I feel like for me personally, it’s really time to listen and I look forward to the journey it takes me on and the ways I can be active.”
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