Since its inception, NASCAR has been defined and influenced by its southern roots. The most storied races on the most venerated tracks are in the south, and that’s where the vast majority of the sport’s fans hailed from for decades. But, in recent years, the expansion of the fan base, along with the proliferation of extremely successful racers from outside the Deep South have gradually shifted some of the norms in the sport.
But is NASCAR ready for what could be one of the most public and meaningful symbolic changes? This won’t be a tweak to the rules, adding more protective equipment, or restrictions on the components of the race car. This shift would be more visible and political. NASCAR has reportedly banned Confederate flags at race tracks.
This effort was led by driver Bubba Wallace, who wants the association to “formally distance itself” from any symbols linked to the Confederacy.
What might have once been seen as one guy speaking his mind, might be gaining some larger traction. Recently, a group of prominent drivers got together for a video promoting social change in the wake of the recent protests. One NASCAR official took a knee before a recent race near Atlanta, and others have said there may be more of that to come.
But, if NFL fans are not ready for kneeling players, are NASCAR fans willing to abide kneeling officials and socially outspoken drivers? Wallace hopes so. Speaking after the recent race where the official kneeled, 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… My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags… Get them out of here.”
But Wallace is not the only figure in the sport calling for change. Daryl Wolfe, executive VP and chief sales and operations officer at NASCAR, said “all people” should “feel welcome at our events…”
But that sentiment may not be enough. This is not the first time there has been a public effort to ban the battle flag from NASCAR events. Former chairman Brian France tried it back in 2015, but his proposal was rebuffed as “too broad to enforce” and denounced for “angering” some fans. At the time, some fans complained, but many others simply ignored the suggestion not to fly the battle flag.
Now, though, both drivers and fans may be more receptive. Former Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. said Wallace’s message is grabbing the attention of people who had not really been thinking about these issues. “It’s one of those things that some of us are just ignorant about and don’t really think about it or worry about it… Then you hear somebody like Bubba talk about it and how he feels, and it wakes you up a bit… I think NASCAR is going to do the right thing here.
Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin said he expected NASCAR to take some action on the issue, adding: “I’m sure they’ll look at what flags they want to fly… If you look at all the haulers, each and every weekend, they’ve got American flags… That’s what we salute when we do the national anthem.”