Drivers! Re-Start Your Engines!

Rusty Wallace: “my” driver of all time!

I have loved NASCAR for as long as I can remember. I saw the fatal race when Dale Earnhardt was killed, and I saw the last races of Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, and Dale Jr. I used to hang a big NASCAR flag on my porch every race day–until the flag was stolen. That was a surprise! I did not think Hollister, California, was a big NASCAR town.

When Covid-19 came, there were no more races to watch. Just like for all sports, fans were saddened. NASCAR tried to help–they came up with a hare-brained idea (my opinion) called “i-racing.” That is when regular NASCAR drivers play car race video games, and we watch them on TV. I-racing is where it all began for NASCAR’s current stance on race relations. A former driver, one of the younger ones, was taped using a racial slur. He dropped an n-bomb during a virtual race on Easter Sunday, apparently not realizing his audio was streaming out to thousands of people on Twitch. It couldn’t be taken back. It was out there for all to hear. The results?

I-racing–an idea whose time has come and gone.

After much consideration, Chip Ganassi Racing has determined that it will end its relationship with driver Kyle Larson. As we said before, Kyle’s comments were both offensive and unacceptable, especially given the values of our organization. As we continued to evaluate the situation with all the relevant parties, it became obvious that this was the only appropriate course of action to take.

Not only did the driver lose his ride, but he also lost his career and maybe his existence. His name is never spoken, and no one mentions the incident. That was when I thought that perhaps something was going on in one of my favorite sports that bore further observance. I was correct.

As a Civil War historian, I am not unaware that NASCAR originated in the southern states. The history of NASCAR can be traced back to the 1920s and early in the 1930s during the Prohibition era. Although the secret manufacturing of whiskey–moonshine– was a big deal, the secret transportation was an even bigger deal. Moonshine runners were known as bootleggers who illegally transported whiskey from hidden stills to markets all across the South. Drivers drove at night, at very high speeds, and in many cases, with the police close behind them. It was a dangerous business, and getting caught transporting illegal liquor meant jail time and the loss of a living. Drivers eventually started racing among themselves and testing which car was the fastest. They would race each other on Sunday afternoon, and on Sunday night, they would use the same vehicles to haul moonshine. Running those ‘shine cars gained in popularity throughout the South.

Back in the day…

The Confederate battle flag was synonymous with NASCAR, at least at its beginning. But time moves on. NASCAR cars are a far cry from those old jalopies of the past and an equally far cry from the offerings of the dealership. They have become engineering marvels, and the sport deserves our respect. Time moves on in other ways than just engineering, as we all know. Never has the Civil War been more timely–except in its own time–than it is right now. The energy of the last few years have rocked statues from their pedestals and torn flags from their moorings. No matter where one falls on this debate, one would have to live in a hole somewhere not to be aware of its occurrence.

Junior, his wife and daughter–“may the circle be unbroken…”

In 2015, a Charleston, South Carolina church shooting took place in which nine African-Americans were killed by a white supremacist. The killer posted several photos of himself online with the Confederate battle flag before the shooting. This started conversations in NASCAR about the Confederate flag and the issues surrounding that flag at race tracks. A ban of sorts was implemented. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said at the time, “It does nothing for anybody to be there flying, so I don’t see any reason. It belongs in the history books, and that’s about it.” NASCAR banned the use of the flag on racecars and licensed merchandise. Still, the association decided just to ask fans to stop displaying the Civil War symbol, rather than ordering them to do so. This approach was less than 100% successful. I wrote about it at the time here on the blog. 

Fast forward to 2020. All heck breaks loose concerning the police and their toxic relationship to citizens of color. This quickly spills over into professional sports, as several players in a variety of leagues show support of the “Black Lives Matter” cause. NASCAR had been racing for a few weeks, but without any fans in the stands. As protests continued day after day, NFL players made a powerful video expressing their opinions. #StrongerTogether (More here…) 

Then, at the Folds of Honor 500 race, this happened: Watch here 

Richard Petty “The King”

I was tearful, I was thrilled, I was disbelieving. But mostly, I was proud. “My” sport–the one I sometimes have to explain, sometimes apologize for loving–had taken a strong and historical stance against the long-term results of what the Civil War was about. It took the terrible events of the past few weeks and the only black driver in NASCAR to express an opinion about the comfort of fans, but it happened. NASCAR then issued its total ban of the Confederate battle flag. There has been much uproar, especially on social media. Some comments have been from folks who do not know the sport very well. One person asked, in jest, “What will Bubba say now?” Another person asked what “the King” would think. In NASCAR, “the King” means Richard Petty, a former driver of exceptional ability, and the current owner of a racing team.

Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 car

Bubba representing

The whole deal sort of began with Bubba. Darrell Wallace is the aforementioned black NASCAR driver, and he is called “Bubba.” He was being interviewed by CNN when he suggested that NASCAR ban Confederate battle flags. It was a casual suggestion, not at all strident or demanding. It grew wings, and the unthinkable happened–all thanks to Bubba. Luckily, Bubba is very outgoing, as he was undoubtedly the news darling last week–maybe even this week. He did better than many newscasters, who consistently got him mixed up with golfer Bubba Watson, and couldn’t keep their Jimmys or their Dales straight. Bubba even drove better. And who does Bubba drive for? Richard Petty, thank you very much, and Petty was fine with the skin design on the #43 car.

Will it last? I hope it does more than that. I hope there is a substantive change in the organization, if not the hearts, of NASCAR. I am not sure, however. People are stubborn, and that impedes the dialogue necessary in this case. History is against NASCAR’s ability to alter its hereditary racism, just as it is against the statues being removed or the flags taken down. One can hope, however. I am tired of the hatred. I’m going to cling to hope and root for #43.

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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21 Responses to Drivers! Re-Start Your Engines!

  1. Michael Turnbull says:

    Good column, I didn’t know anything about the history of NASCAR. And Meg, Bubba Watson is the golfer you’re looking for. 😎

  2. Why is ECW unable to stick with the topic elucidated in their name? Is this a history blog about the 19th century or a 21st century agitprop? “The energy of the last few years have rocked statues from their pedestals and torn flags from their moorings.NASCAR banned the use of the flag on race cars and licensed merchandise. Still, the association decided just to ask fans to stop displaying the Civil War symbol, rather than ordering them to do so. This approach was less than 100% successful. People are stubborn, and that impedes the dialogue necessary in this case.” Per this last sentence, it’s necessary to have 100% compliance with removing the Confederate flag at NASCAR. But we should all embrace the new BLM car (w/symbol on the hood) as the “preferred” way of thinking. This is not a dialogue – it’s plainly a monologue. I’m being told what I should believe and should convert immediately to a BLM worldview – that’s clearly antithetical to American constitution values of free speech and self-determination. This post has only the most tenuous relationship to any actual civil war topic. Please put the train back on the track!

    • Meg Groeling says:

      Randall–thanks for your spirited response. For me, it once again indicates that our war extended far beyond the military. Our ECW writers live this war every day. It is always in our conversations, our reading, our–well–everything. No matter what we do, the Civil War is there, somewhere. When I write a post such as this, I use personal pronouns, like “I.” I do not expect the world to agree with me, but I do expect to have the right to express myself. ECW generously encourages its writers to be more personal. Readers get to know us that way. Fear not–this blog is not “off the rails.” Did you read about the new map of burials at Antietam that just got “found?” Wow!

      • Ryan Quint says:

        To reiterate Meg’s opinion, the study of the Civil War goes far beyond just bayonets and bugles. Studying the societal issues caused by the war, and how it’s remembered and popular memory remain as much a part of studying the war as studying the tactics of any given battle.

  3. Douglas Pauly says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t give much credence to these recent moves to remove symbols and statues and flags and the like. I always ask: why now? And the best I can come up with are they are efforts by a certain political party to erase THEIR culpability in all that transpired that led to the Confederacy and its aftermath. Remember that in recent years, that party has had both the White House and complete control of the Congress and you never heard a peep from them about any of this. And there have been governors from that party in the ‘offending’ states that allowed display of such items. I will also point out that uttering epithets about ONE particular demographic group is suffice to destroy not only the offending person’s career, but life. As the OJ trial proved, such epithets are now more of a crime than actual murder! Yet uttering such things about other groups might, MIGHT, result in a demanded apology, and/or in a worse case a suspension and/or fine, if any of that. The double standards are appalling. And removing all the statues and symbols and monuments will not change a darned thing. All that will happen are other ‘targets’ will be selected, the same usual suspects will demand that they be destroyed, and STILL the REAL problems will exist. It’s all a deflection.

    Per NASCAR, I used to be an avid fan. My loss of interest in them has nothing to do with removing flags or other gestures (empty though they may be in their NOT addressing the real problems that are driving certain issues, as I stated above), but more with their efforts to ‘fix something that wasn’t broke’, like implementing a ‘playoff’ season and now races in 3 segments. Anyone else notice the constantly empty stands that were the norm before this Chinese communist bug struck the country? I didn’t leave NASCAR, NASCAR left me!

    And about BLM. I have no problem with the MESSAGE so long as it’s wrapped within the other message of “ALL Lives Matter”. But BLM THE GROUP appears to be yet another domestic terrorist group, that has actively provided aid and assistance to the Antifa trash sacking our cities. So with that said, NASCAR can make themselves feel good about the politically correct antics they are engaged in. But the sad fact is that, as I mentioned before, none of them address the REAL problems. And THAT is the real ongoing tragedy.

    • Meg Groeling says:

      Douglas–Thanks for your response, and very little disagreement from me on things. I constantly remind myself that racing is only a sport, not real life. I hate the race segments as well, but I don’t mind the playoffs. It is nice to have a little excitement at the end of the season.

      My opinions of BLM have become increasingly woke, however. It was a huge wake-up for me when I heard someone locally comment about a traffic accident involving one of the buses that our (Central California) migrant pickers ride on to get to and from the fields. There were several fatalities. I heard the comment, “Well, we can always get more workers.” It was then that I realized the difference in worth of lives depending on externals. “Hey! One less homeless to mess with!” Yeah–so–there is a difference in how worth is assessed.

      We all have to do better.

  4. From an early age, I remember visiting my grandparents house and NASCAR was always on. Either that or John Wayne movies. Neither stuck with me through adulthood, but I’m actually glad neither of my grandparents are alive to see this change in NASCAR. I’d never hear the end of it at any family gathering how the sport has “sold out” in their opinion. I get enough of that at the CWRT meetings as it is. I’m of the mind that this is a good thing. And like you, Meg, I’m getting tired of the hatred and ignorance running rampant at the moment. Hopefully when the dust settles, everyone will calm the heck down.

    • Meg Groeling says:

      Sheritta–thanks for your timely comment. I just hope we keep the positives and the negatives fall off somewhere along the road.

  5. Bob Ruth says:

    Meg:

    Thanks for this great post, one of the best ever to appear on ECW. Thanks especially for sharing the video. Wow!

  6. Joseph Jurdana says:

    Who is going to confiscate the Confederate flags when crowds return to NASCAR? Security guards or social workers?

    • Robert Anderson says:

      I don’t know much about NASCAR. but I have to ask:
      Are they inviting protests by banning the flag ?

      I think they motivating groups like the Virginia Flaggers to set up displays of the flag near the tracks. People , especially Southerners ,don’t like being told what they can and can’t do.

      Just remember, that’s what started the war to begin with, Southern pride and stubbornness.

      • Meg Groeling says:

        Even Rhett Butler said all the South had was cotton. slaves, and arrogance–lol. Stock car racing is so beautiful as a sport–elegant, smart, exciting…I want everyone to enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks for the comments.

  7. Alton Bunn says:

    Can’t say I watch NASCAR anymore. Being wrapped up in political correctness and all the petty nitnoid rules has made me want to puke at times.

    • Meg Groeling says:

      I am adding “nitnoid” to my vocabulary. Thanks for your comment–I still love it, but sometimes that 3-hour rain delay makes me crazy.

  8. After many years being a member and a fan of nascar .I am done They have turned their back on their own for political correctness and the all mighty dollar bill . the blm car and banning of the confederate flag is the straw that broke the camel;s back .
    I fly the flag for history .heritage . and respect . i am NOT a racist nor claim any white privileged ,
    Tearing down statures, monuments . flags . will never change history . It is the acts of immature ,childish . people who are only creating more problems then solving them . Using the tactics of isis to get your demands will never work . mob rule will never work .Tthere is more to this movement then 160 year old history . All lives matter Mr Petty . nascar JUST STAY RACING . HISTORY IS HISTORY To judge our ancestors with our beliefs is simply wrong and not the mark of a historian . I agree with some other comments let this blog stay Civil War and not peoples sounding board for present day politics . .

    • Meg Groeling says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. As a writer and historian, I love it when the past and the present collide. I am saved from convincing anyone that the war is still relevant. Richard Petty has not been vocal about any of this, but actions speak louder than mere words.

  9. Traci says:

    No matter how one tries to spin it, banning a symbol of a group’s history, heritage, veterans, families, region, & culture is unjust group punishment, hypicrisy, & censorship at best & a gross violation of civil rights at worst. I am appalled that this kind of anti-Southron discrimination is happening in this day & age.

    • Meg Groeling says:

      I am sorry, but I disagree. I am against continuing anything that advocates violence against another, and the Confederacy, politically, did just that.

      • Meg
        You definite have a very biased opinion for a historian and writer on this blog . A TRAIT THAT IS NOT GOOD FOR WRITING HISTORY BETTER SUITED FOR THE EDITORIAL PAGE .
        Afraid i’ll not be reading your pages any more that is for sure ,

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