NASCAR, a sport with a rich Southern heritage, announced Tuesday that it supported the effort by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse.
NASCAR sanctions several races in South Carolina, including one annually in its premier Sprint Cup Series at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted,” a NASCAR statement released Tuesday said. “NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate Flag on Monday.”
A national groundswell of support for removal of the flag has grown since last week’s shooting deaths of nine African-American members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
NASCAR has a long-standing policy of not allowing the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity, which will remain in place. This policy includes the flag’s use in paint schemes of competitors’ cars and its use in areas of the track over which NASCAR has direct control, including garages, Victory Lane, the media center and driver/owner motorhome lots.
In 2012, NASCAR nixed a plan by Phoenix International Raceway to have PGA star Bubba Watson drive the “General Lee” car from the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard” – which he owns – on a parade lap around the track. The car features a Confederate flag painted on its roof.
NASCAR also has issued penalties in recent years to industry participants who have used racial slurs.
As yet, NASCAR has taken no public steps toward encouraging tracks on which it competes to ban fans from bringing Confederate flags onto track property, however.
“While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events,” NASCAR’s statement said.
Both International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc., which own the bulk of the tracks on which NASCAR’s three national series compete, have policies in place banning the sale of merchandise that includes the Confederate flag.
“We join NASCAR in support of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s position on the Confederate flag,” ISC President John Saunders said in a statement released Tuesday.
“ISC strives to ensure all fans are welcome to enjoy our events and maintains an inclusive environment at our facilities nationwide.”