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NASCAR's Bubba Wallace Wants Confederate Flags Banned From Race Tracks

Bubba Wallace wears an "I Can't Breathe, Black Lives Matter" shirt before a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Brynn Anderson
Bubba Wallace wears an "I Can't Breathe, Black Lives Matter" shirt before a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, the first full-time African-American driver on NASCAR's top circuit in more than 45 years, wasn't always offended by the Confederate flag.

But now he wants them banned from all races.

The 26-year-old from Alabama said he's been making an effort to educate himself on what the flag signifies for many people. Presumably, that for some it's become anemblem for white supremacy, and is a reminder of America's slave history, bigotry and oppression of African Americans.

"What I'm chasing is checkered flags, and that was kind of my narrative," Wallace said in a Monday interviewwith CNN. "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."

He added, "My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags. 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."

The red flag with blue bars and white stars, which the Sons of Confederate Veterans adopted as a symbol of Southern heritage, has been linked to NASCAR almost since its inception. For decades, the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina hosted the Rebel 400 in the spring, and featured the flag prominently on programs and other advertisements, all while "Dixie" played as the soundtrack at pre-race ceremonies.

However, over the years it's become a bit of an albatross for the stock car racing association. In 2015, after a white supremacist killed nine African Americans inside a Charleston, S.C., church, then-NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France referred to the flag as an "offensive and divisive symbol."

Despite a pledge to disassociate NASCAR from the rebel battle flag, the association did not go as far as to ban it from the stands. Instead, it "requested" people stop bringing them to races and set up a flag exchange program where attendees could trade in their Confederate flag for an American one.

And as protests have raged on in recent weeks, with thousands demonstrating against police brutality — especially brutality against black people at the hands of white officers — NASCAR has launched a campaign supporting racial equality and diversity.

Regardless, Wallace said further action on the flags is overdue, though he acknowledged the move would likely draw backlash from fans.

"There's going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly, but it's time for change," he said. "We have to change that, and I encourage NASCAR to have those conversations to remove those flags."

Those who disagree can "get back on the road where you came from," Wallace said.

"We should not be able to have an argument over that," he said. "It is a thick line we cannot cross anymore."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.