Two days after Bubba Wallace, the lone black driver in NASCAR’s three national series, called for the sanctioning body to ban all Confederate flags at racetracks, the organization did just that.
“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,” NASCAR said in a statement Wednesday. “The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
The move comes amid social unrest around the globe following the death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, on May 25 in Minneapolis. Protests have swept the United States since Floyd’s death, and Confederate monuments are being taken down across the South, the traditional home of NASCAR’s fan base.
Wallace commended the move before Wednesday night’s race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia.
“Props to NASCAR and everybody involved,” he told Fox Sports 1, which broadcast the race.
“[NASCAR president Steve] Phelps and I have been in contact a lot, just trying to figure out what steps are next, and that was a huge, pivotal moment. A lot of backlash for the sport, but it creates doors and allows the community to come together as one. And that’s what the real mission is here. So I’m excited about that and just gonna keep going on tonight.”
Confederate flags have been a familiar sight at NASCAR races over the sport’s 72-year history, dotting the infield atop RVs or being waved by fans in the grandstands, though the stock car series, with its roots in moonshine running, has in recent years taken steps to sever the connection.
The flag issue has been a thorny one for NASCAR. Former chairman Brian France in 2015 tried to ban the flying of Confederate flags at racetracks, angering many fans.
NASCAR did not address how it would enforce the policy or indicate any penalties for fans who violate it by bringing the Confederate flag to a track. NASCAR has not raced in front of fans since the sport resumed last month amid the coronavirus pandemic and is expected to have minimal fans allowed at races this month in Florida and Alabama.
Wallace’s Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet carried a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in Wednesday night’s race.
“It’s been a stressful couple of weeks,” Wallace said on FS1. “This is no doubt the biggest race of my career tonight. I’m excited about tonight. There’s a lot of emotions on the race track.”
Wallace wore a black “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt before the race. He did not kneel during the national anthem.
Five years ago, the matter of the Confederate flag was front and center for NASCAR after nine black churchgoers were slain in Charleston, South Carolina. The man currently on death row for the murders, Dylann Roof, embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, prompting a reappraisal of the role such symbols play in the South.
France said then that the series was “working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.” Tracks offered to exchange Confederate flags for American flags, but there were few takers, and flags have continued to be seen at the events.
NASCAR had been more open lately to the eradication of the Confederate flag. Several drivers — including two-time Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin — said Tuesday that they supported Wallace in his quest to rid the sport of the flag.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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