In a Saturday interview with The Associated Press, NASCAR chairman Brian France took the organization’s strongest stance yet on eradicating the Confederate flag at its races.
France said NASCAR would “go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag. I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way. We’re working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events.”
In a statement Tuesday, NASCAR endorsed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the flag from its statehouse grounds in Columbia. NASCAR noted its “long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity” but stopped short of saying it would be banned from tracks. “ 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.”
Saying he personally found the Confederate flag an “insensitive symbol” that was offensive, France indicated NASCAR would take steps toward reducing the visibility of the flag at tracks. The flag often is seen flying atop RVs and campers in the infield.
“That’s what we’re working on — working on how far can we go,” France told the AP. “If there’s more we can do to disassociate ourselves with that flag at our events than we’ve already done, then we want to do it. We are going to be as aggressive as we can to disassociate ourselves with that flag.”
The actions come in the wake of the slaying of nine African-American churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Dylann Roof was arrested and charged with the murders, and images have emerged of him posing with the flag and wearing symbols associated with white supremacy.
France told the AP that the Charleston church shooting was the impetus for a renewed push to remove the flag in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon supported NASCAR’s stance in separate interviews Friday.
“Obviously, we have our roots in the South, there are events in the South, it’s part of our history like it is for the country,” France told the AP. “But it needs to be just that, part of our history. It isn’t part of our future.
“We want everybody in this country to be a NASCAR fan and you can’t do that by being insensitive in any one area.”