DIS to offer flag swap at weekend races
BY PENNY DICKERSON
Last week, NASCAR Chairman Bill France announced that the Confederate flag would be banned from the sanctioning body’s races. But on Tuesday, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said the flag would be allowed at this weekend’s races in Daytona Beach.
Chitwood said the Speedway will not ban the Confederate flag but will offer an exchange of a Confederate flag for a U.S. one.
“I think the goal of any NASCAR event, and specifically Daytona, we want to be inclusive to everyone,” Chitwod said. “The last thing you want is for anyone to come to a sporting event and really not enjoy that experience because of symbols that really represent things that we’re not proud of.
“For us, we’re celebrating the American flag this weekend. It’s our nation’s birthday. We’re going to have a flag exchange opportunity. So fans who would like to fly the American flag, we’ll trade with you on whatever flag you have. We want you to celebrate that flag this weekend.”
On June 27, France said the Confederate flag has to go.
“We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag,” France told The Associated Press on June 27. “I personally find it an offensive symbol so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way.
“We’re working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.”
The decision aligns with a nationwide awareness to mute the flag’s public presence following the deadly massacre of nine innocent African-Americans shot to death last month during a Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.
Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed White supremacist, has been arrested and charged in the “hate crime” and his legacy includes disturbing images of him draped in a Confederate flag.
In the aftermath of the killings, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley chose to reverse her previous stance on the Confederate flag, which has flown on the grounds of the State House since 1962 amidst ongoing protests. A Republican, who is the first ethnic minority and first woman to serve as governor, she advised fellow lawmakers they needed to “remove the flag” once and for all.
Popular racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. said last weekend that he disapproves of the Confederate flag.
“I think it is offensive to an entire race. It really does nothing for anybody to be there, flying. It belongs in the history books and that’s about it,’’ he said.
More Black fans
Volusia County is the proud home to NASCAR, a largely White-dominated sport that has struggled to establish diversity in both participation and fan base. With an inbred history of racism and exclusion, the Confederate flag has dually served as symbol of the “Old South” for millions of White fans who attend Daytona International Speedway events. They collectively create a blanket of RVs, campers and parked cars emblazoned with the Confederacy icon.
For some Blacks, the flag is too closely aligned with the Ku Klux Klan. But for others, it has not been a barrier to racetrack indulgence.
According to the NASCAR, stock car racing is the fastest-growing sport among African-Americans and Hispanics. Since 1995, the percentage of Black fans increased 18 percent to 2 million. And African-Americans comprise nearly 10 percent of NASCAR’s fan base.
In an effort to expand its multicultural audience, NASCAR implemented an “industry action plan” aimed at youths under 18 and the 18-to-34 demographic. The age of the average NASCAR fan is 51 years old. Many of those enthusiasts, Black and White, hail from the post-segregation era where flags and some signs were too often deemed offensive.
Beyond freedom of expression
Millions of the stars-and-bars flag are proudly exhibited by citizens who also embrace it as a homage to their heritage instead of hate. Throughout Florida, pickup trucks don Confederate flags in rearview mirrors and nostalgic license plates are plentiful.
NASCAR officials remain readily aware that policing the presence of the flags throughout the Speedway’s common areas like parking lots will be a challenge. Even for the most zealous sports fan, the First Amendment freedom of expression prevails.
“That’s what we’re working on — working on how far can we go,” France said last week. “If there’s more we can do to disassociate ourselves with that flag at our events than we’ve already done, then we want to do it. We are going to be as aggressive as we can to disassociate ourselves with that flag,” he added.
History, not hate
France expressed gratitude and a commitment to diversity on Jan. 30 when he enshrined NASCAR trailblazer Wendell Scott as the first African-American inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was his third year on the ballot for consideration despite a 13-year career that resulted in over 100 regional-level wins.
“This is a proud day for NASCAR and one of the most significant days in the history of our sport,’’ France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. “We are honored to announce Wendell Scott is a member of our 2015 class of NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees. Wendell had plenty of success in our premier series but his contributions, of course, transcended any results on the race track.”
Scott endured tremendous racism throughout this illustrious career and would likely be proud of his beloved sport’s initiative to embrace diversity and eradicate the confederate flag.
“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,” France said. “But it needs to be just that, part of our history. It isn’t part of our future. We want everybody in this country to be a NASCAR fan and you can’t do that by being insensitive in any one area.”