“I’m excited for this opportunity to run #BlackLivesMatter on the car for Martinsville,” Wallace said in a video his team posted Tuesday, referring to the Virginia track hosting Wednesday’s 263-mile Cup Series race.
“This statement that we have right here that we’re about to make — running this racecar, being on live television on Fox — I think it’s going to speak volumes for what I stand for,” the 26-year-old added, “but also what the initiative that NASCAR, the whole sport, is trying to push.”
NASCAR has long banned the use of the Confederate flag on its racecars and licensed merchandise, but it hasn’t entirely eradicated what many see as a racist symbol. In 2015, when photos of Dylann Roof posing with the flag surfaced after he murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., NASCAR requested that fans not bring the Confederate flag to its tracks “in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive, even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend our events.” It even offered a trade-in program in which fans could swap a flag of their choice for the U.S. flag.
Still, the Confederate flag persists when fans are allowed into tracks. Speaking on CNN on Monday night, Wallace said that needs to change.
“We are trying to figure out next steps. My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags,” he asserted. “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.”
On Tuesday, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that NASCAR is “actively considering” a change to its Confederate flag policy.
Wallace said he isn’t personally bothered by Confederate flags at the track but understands that other people find them offensive.
“I wasn’t bothered by it, but I don’t speak for everybody else. I speak for myself,” Wallace said. “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.”
Other NASCAR drivers weighed in on the issue after Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with two of them admitting to varying degrees of discomfort with the Confederate flag.
“As far as the Confederate flags go, they had that trade your flag in, and I think everyone has their beliefs. It’s tough, but I don’t really enjoy it because sometimes I feel like the people that wave them mean the negative when they wave them, and that’s not cool,” Ryan Blaney said. “Yeah, I’d love to not see them at the racetrack, honestly, because it doesn’t make everyone comfortable, so that’s kind of where I stand on that. Bring your 50 stars flag; I think that would be way better.”
Brad Keselowski agreed with Blaney’s thoughts about what the flag represents but did not go so far as to say they should not be allowed at the tracks.
“I only salute one flag, and that’s America’s. I recognize that [the Confederate] flag might mean something different to different people, but it doesn’t mean United States of America to me,” he said. “But I’m not going to tell people they need to get rid of it. That’s not my right, either. But I certainly don’t salute it or respect it or probably anyone else who feels the same way. But, at the end of the day, it’s not our call.”
Before Sunday’s race, Wallace wore a mask with the American flag on it along with a black T-shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter,” a show of solidarity with the protests that followed George Floyd’s killing while in police custody in Minneapolis. Drivers at Sunday’s race observed a moment of silence, which NASCAR President Steve Phelps said was “a moment of reflection to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport.”
In the video posted by his team, Wallace said the idea for Wednesday’s car design came about the previous week on “#BlackoutTuesday,” during which individuals and companies made a show of support on social media for issues of racial justice. He also announced that his foundation, Live to be Different, would be donating $10,000 to the Black Lives Matter Foundation.
“It’s true — black lives do matter,” Wallace said. “It’s not that we’re saying no other lives matter. We’re trying to say that black lives matter, too. … We always say, ‘All lives will not matter until black lives matter.’ ”