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 Brian France has adopted 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.
This 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 (http://emergingcivilwar.com/2012/02/27/drivers-start-your-engines/) 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.”
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.