Fans at Florida’s Daytona International Speedway were having none of what some of them called “political correctness” this weekend and let the Confederate flag fly, despite NASCAR’s call for its removal.
Above tents and trailers at the Coke Zero 400 it flew, including a version featuring a menacing skull-faced rider with the slogan: “The South Will Rise Again.” It decorated clothing, including T-shirts hailing “Southern Thunder,” and it adorned coolers, beer cozies and skin, in the form of tattoos.
And there were no apologies.
“It kills me that NASCAR is jumping on the bandwagon,” Paul Stevens of Port Orange, Fla., told the Associated Press. “They should just let it pass, let everything die down. But NASCAR is too quick to try to be politically correct like everybody else.”
“We’re not flying it for controversy,” NASCAR fan Glenn Baker told NBC Sports late last week, drawing attention to the other flags in his collection. “We’ve got the American flag, the rebel flag, the POW. It all goes together. Our freedom.”
Controversy over the Confederate flag has swept the country since last month’s shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Major retailers including Wal-Mart, eBay and Amazon stopped selling items emblazoned with the emblem or variations of it. Private companies did too. Even the “Dukes of Hazzard” were punished, thanks to the show’s car, the General Lee.
Last week, NASCAR took a stand as Daytona and 29 other tracks asked fans to stow their rebel banners during the weekend’s race — its first race since the great purge began — announcing an exchange program for fans who wanted to swap out the Confederate flag for an American one. Drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. supported the cause.
“Going forward, we’re really going to have to take a look at where that other flag goes because it doesn’t have a place in our sport,” Daytona President Joie Chitwood said.
But it certainly did this weekend. “I don’t think you’re supposed to cherish it, but don’t forget it,” Mississippi native David Childress, who owns six Confederate flags, told the Duluth News Tribune.
”The Confederate flag has absolutely nothing to do with slavery. It has nothing to do with divisiveness. It has nothing to do with any of that,” NASCAR fan Steven Rebenstorf told the AP. ”It was just a battle banner until the Ku Klux Klan draped it around themselves. Now, all of a sudden, it represents slavery and that’s not at all true.”
“It’s just a Southern pride thing,” Larry Reeves from Jacksonville Beach, Fla., told the AP. “It’s nothing racist or anything.”
“This isn’t a Confederate thing so much as it is a NASCAR thing,” he added. “That’s why I fly it.”
Americans are divided over the flag. In a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll released last week, 42 percent surveyed said the flag was an emblem of Southern history and heritage. But another 42 percent of respondents said the Confederate flag was racist and should be removed from state flags and official locations.
In a CNN/ORC poll, 57 percent polled called the flag a symbol of Southern pride. The results varied largely by race.
“I think it’s getting a bum rap,” John Wilson from Dunnellon, Fla., told USA Today Sports late last week. “Everybody else is getting to fly their flags in the United States of the America and have their heritage. Why can’t I have mine? That flag there had nothing to do with slavery, or hate. That one was a Confederate battle flag right there, that wasn’t even a Southern flag.”
“This is the United States of America. I have the right to do what I choose,” he added. “And if you find it offensive, I am sorry.”