NASCAR endorses call for removal of Confederate flag from South Carolina capitol

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NASCAR has released a statement endorsing the call by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Monday for the removal of the Confederate flag from its statehouse in Columbia. The action comes in the wake of the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that left nine dead.

South Carolina is the home state of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, which is located about two hours north of Charleston.

NASCAR’s statement:

As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted. NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate flag on Monday. As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity. 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.

John Saunders, president of International Speedway Corp., which operates 12 tracks that host NASCAR Sprint Cup races, including Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Darlington Raceway, issued a statement about the Confederate flag on Tuesday:

“We join NASCAR in support of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s position on the Confederate flag. ISC strives to ensure all fans are welcome to enjoy our events and maintains an inclusive environment at our facilities nationwide. ISC will continue our long-standing practice to prohibit the sale of Confederate flag material on our property.”

Scott Cooper, vice president of communications for Charlotte Motor Speedway, issued a statement on behalf of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns eight tracks that host Cup races, including Charlotte, Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway:

“Our facilities do not fly the Confederate flag nor do we sell flags or souvenirs with the image, and we ask any third-party vendors to remove such items from their inventory on our property. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families and friends of the Charleston shooting victims, and we will recognize the victims with a moment of silence at our Summer Shootout Series this evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.”

In a 2005 interview with “60 Minutes,” NASCAR CEO and Chairman Brian France said of the Confederate flag, “It’s not a flag I look at with anything favorable. That’s for sure.”

About the presence of the flag at tracks, France said, “These are massive facilities and I can’t tell people what flag to fly,” France said. “A lot of flags fly off property, but they’re in and around the facility.”

France was asked if he could ban the Confederate flag at his tracks.

“I think that you get into freedom of speech and all of the rest of it,” France said. “All we can do is get behind the most important flag, the American Flag.”

The next year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the only driver of about 30 asked by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports who spoke on the record about the Confederate flag.

“We live in a country where you can speak freely and do as you may,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know [if] what that flag stands for is the same for me as it is the guy who might have it flying out there.

“I am not going to agree with everything everybody does all my life. So I don’t have any control over it.”

In 2012, NASCAR barred pro golfer Bubba Watson from driving his replica of the “General Lee” at Phoenix International Raceway. The car, made famous in the 1980s TV show “The Dukes Of Hazzard,” has the Confederate flag on its roof and is named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee.