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Confederate flag again flown over NASCAR race

A plane pulls a Confederate battle flag over Bristol Motor Speedway before the NASCAR All-Star Race. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

For the second time since NASCAR banned displays of the Confederate battle flag last month, one was flown over the site of a Cup Series race.

On Wednesday, the flag was towed by an airplane over NASCAR’s All-Star race in Bristol, Tenn., after previously being spotted above a race in June at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway. Whereas the banner to which the flag was affixed last month also bore the message “Defund NASCAR,” this time it included a website URL related to a group called Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

The commander in chief of the Tennessee-based group, Paul C. Gramling Jr., did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment. In remarks last month to the Columbia Daily Herald, Gramling said, “It is the hope of the Sons of Confederate Veterans that NASCAR fans will be allowed the fundamental American right of displaying pride in their family and heritage. … We believe NASCAR’s slandering of our Southern heritage only further divides our nation."

NASCAR did not provide official comment on the SCV’s action in June, but Steve O’Donnell, the stock-car racing organization’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, called the perpetrator of the stunt “a jackass” at the time in a tweet.

NASCAR banned the Confederate flag shortly after Bubba Wallace, the only black full-time Cup Series driver, called for such a move.

While the Talladega race was delayed because of rain, NASCAR announced that it had discovered a noose in the garage stall of Wallace’s team. An FBI investigation into a possible hate crime concluded that the noose had been there since at least October 2019 and that “nobody could have known” that Wallace would be assigned to that stall.

Approximately two weeks later, President Trump said in a tweet that the noose episode was a “hoax” and suggested that Wallace should apologize for a large show of support other drivers and team members staged for him at Talladega.

With statues and other symbols of the Confederacy being taken down or removed amid widespread protests of racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd, Trump is making what he has called “defending the past” a feature of his reelection campaign.

In an interview last week with Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, Trump said, “They’re taking down history, they’re taking down so much, Marc. They’re taking down everything and they call it ‘cancel culture.’ I don’t think it’s a beautiful term, but it’s actually very descriptive. … They want to cancel everything. They want to cancel the good and the bad.”

“What NASCAR did was a slap in the face to fans who made the sport what it is,” Gramling, the head of the SCV, said last month. “They don’t know how upset they’ve made people with this decision.”

In announcing its ban on June 10, NASCAR said, “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.”

A short-track auto racing circuit that NASCAR team owner and former superstar driver Tony Stewart plans to debut next year will also ban the flag.

“We are going to be an inclusive series with drivers and fans from diverse and multinational backgrounds,” a spokesperson for the new venture, called Superstar Racing Experience, told CNBC on Monday. “We will not condone activity or behavior that creates an unwelcoming or offensive environment for any of our fans or drivers.”

At Bristol Motor Speedway, where Chase Elliott would go on to win the All-Star race, WCYB reported that “a few” Confederate flags were visible.

“It’s part of our heritage where they fought in the Civil War,” a NASCAR fan told the station. “That’s something that we’ve had for hundreds of years. I think we need to keep our heritage.”

“It’s your First Amendment right, freedom of speech to do whatever,” said another fan. “At the same time, we are trying to get new people into the sport.”

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