Confederate Culture Wars at NASCAR: Meg Thompson


Irwin Tools Night Race
BRISTOL, TN – AUGUST 27: A view of cars racing during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 27, 2011 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Just about the last hope for the Lost Cause might be NASCAR. As a follower and fan myself, it has been interesting to see how the sport of stock car racing has responded to the Confederate flag kerfluffle. NASCAR is not exactly known for its liberal political stances on much of anything. Neither is its alleged fan base.

Still, in the last month, NASCAR has been shaken to its southern roots. Chairman BrianĀ France has adoptedĀ a strong stand on the flag issue and its display at NASCAR tracks across America, or ” ‘merica,” as it is known in some corners of the track. France has asked that the Confederate flag not be displayed at official NASCAR events.

shine carThis is a difficult position for many fans of the sport. After all, NASCAR began, more or less, when southern drivers modified their old cars to outrun law enforcement during Prohibition. Carrying a trunkful of ‘shine was plainly illegal. After Prohibition ended, liquor was taxed, and once again a slew of good ol’ boys drove it like they stole it trying to outrun the Internal Revenue. Just because the sport is now pretty much in Yankee hands ( does not mean that it has forgotten its southern roots.


NASCAR’s favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., weighed in on the issue, calling the battleflag, “offensive to an entire race.” He, and the rest of official NASCAR, supported South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s removal of the flag from the ground of the Statehouse. “I’ve made my comments about the Confederate flag several times, and I stand behind NASCAR’s stance to remove it. I think it is offensive . . . it really does nothing for anybody to be there flying. It belongs in the history books, that’s about it.”


Driver Jeff Gordon, who races with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Hendrick Motorsports, added that the company has long prohibited the use of the Confederate flag as a symbol on any of its racing merchandise. “Everything we can control, we’ve eliminated the ability to use it in any way or show up in any of the things we’re involved with. That’s the stance I see that NASCAR had taken and had had for several years. I’m in support of what they are doing. It’s a delicate balance. We race all over but the South is an area where we have a lot of fans and everyone has different opinions and expressions of that.”

Confederate flags have long been common among the tens of thousands of fans at NASCAR races across the South and that’s not likely to change unless the motorsports series or racetrack owners decide to bar them. This would be difficult, given the size of the crowds and NASCAR’s own acknowledgement that fans have a right to freedom of expression. But they are trying–NASCAR has officially asked tracks to officially ask fans to “refrain” from displaying the Confederate flag at races. “We are asking our fans and partners to join us in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive, even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend out events. This will include the request to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag at our facilities and NASCAR events.”

Confederate stars and bars fly on flag poles attached to campers with the driver flags of Kevin Harvick (29), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8) and Mark Martin (6) at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., Friday, March 18, 2005. (AP Photo/Ric Feld)

I know the effort of this series is to have ECW writers give an opinion of this latest challenge to Civil War historiography. Some may think I have chosen NASCAR as a platform because my feelings concerning reconstruction are pretty raw just now. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is very easy to have a whole bunch of contrary opinions when you only express them to like-minded colleagues or your loved ones in the privacy of your own front porch, craft beer and cigar in hand. It is another to stand in the broiling sun, punishing humidity, or pouring rain at a racetrack, wearing your Tony Stewart t-shirt and being surrounded by a sea of southerners, many waving the flag in question. Daunting does not even begin to describe it. To be as aggressive as NASCAR has been, and apparently will continue to be, is in itself an expression of patriotism worth noting. The Confederate flag may be part of our past, but for NASCAR fans, and for myself, it should not be part of our future.


11 Responses to Confederate Culture Wars at NASCAR: Meg Thompson

  1. Are the people with those flags above their RV’s really “lost causers?”

    My experience (at parking lots outside of NASCAR races and college football games) is that these folks have not put much thought into the causes of secession or the motivations of reb soldiers.

    Their flying the flag is typically meant to say, in essence, “F**K YEAH, THE SOUTH IS AWESOME!!!!,”

  2. I am not so sure the South was as awesome for some as it was for others. I love the “Embassy Row” atmosphere of drivers’ flags on race day, but the Confederate battle flag does not belong!

  3. The intent is the flag-wavers (again, as far as I can tell) is not about what “was,” it’s about what “is.”

    The South is awesome because it’s HQ for a badass sport where powerful cars drive fast as all hell and sometimes there are spectacular crashes.

    It’s also awesome because for African Americans in 2015, it offers a better chance at upward mobility and economic advancement than New York, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. That’s why there is a reverse great migration that’s been going on for at least 10 years or so.

    The flag-wavers aren’t promoting a pro-secesh viewpoint or waxing nostalgic about a “way of life” that depended on bondage. They just see it as “the flag of the South,” and if it results in shriekss from pearl-clutching New Yorkers, that’s an added benefit.

    I see it as extremely poor manners (at best) to hoist it, and I’m embarrassed when I have out-of-town guests who see one flying above a residence. But I don’t see those people as the last bastion of “lost causery,” because they’re ambivalent about the cause, and will tell you they don’t think anyone should take any offense.

  4. This flag represents some offensive southern values, which includes an ugly thread of racism. NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity has met head on with the “No N_____ in NASCAR folks. I do take offense, whether it is meant or not. Pretty ugly! These folks probably love the crashes, too. Not a big fan, myself.

    But nothing is better than the National Anthem and the flyover at the beginning of each Cup race!

  5. Brian France is the CEO of Nascar not Bill. Bill was his father and passed away several years ago.

  6. I expected as much. Since King Brian took over its been all for the almighty dollar. I’m sure he could see that in advance. No balls!

  7. The “heritage” folks are now (June 2020), not surprisingly, setting their hair on fire over NASCAR’s official ban for Confederate iconography, and calling for a boycott of NASCAR events. Which is weird because, as I recall, they’ve supposedly been boycotting NASCAR since 2015 when NASCAR first disavowed it

    One the other hand, there are die-hard Confederate supporters who insist that NASCAR hasn’t been worth a damn since they started letting non-white drivers in.

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