Some fans defend their Confederate flags at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sipping a beer beneath the shade of a canopy just under the Confederate flag flying atop her RV, Gerry Baker explained why she was sticking with her controversial colors. 

“The rebel flag don’t mean any hate at all,” she said. “It’s just I like it. I have a rebel flag bathing suit as a matter of fact. Are they going to make me take it off if I put it on?”

That was one of many questions filtering through the Daytona International Speedway infield Thursday in the wake of a statement from NASCAR asking fans to stop displaying the Confederate flag at its events.

The release was co-signed by 30 tracks, 29 of which play host to Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series events.

“As members of the NASCAR industry, we join NASCAR in the desire to make our events among the most fan-friendly, welcoming environments in all of sports and entertainment,” the statement read. “To do that, 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 our events. This will include the request to refrain from displaying the Confederate Flag at our facilities and NASCAR events.

“We are committed to providing a welcoming atmosphere free of offensive symbols. This is an opportunity for NASCAR Nation to demonstrate its sense of mutual respect and acceptance for all who attend our events while collectively sharing the tremendous experience of NASCAR racing.”

The release comes in the wake of several NASCAR personalities taking a stance against the flag last week. NASCAR chairman Brian France said  the sanctioning body would go “as far as we can” to eliminate the Confederate flag from its events. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also supported its eradication at tracks.

Though the release contained no language about banning the Confederate flag at races, multiple sources told NASCAR Talk the release effectively would allow tracks to classify it as an offensive symbol and request its removal if there were fan complaints. Many tracks have policies that prohibit items deemed inappropriate at the discretion of management.

Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood said during a news conference Tuesday that his track wouldn’t ban fans such as Baker from displaying the Confederate flag this weekend. A Daytona spokesman said Thursday that the track’s stance remained unchanged after the NASCAR statement.

The track has implemented a program to allow fans to exchange flags at the Turn 1 tunnel where campers enter the infield. As of 3 p.m. Thursday, a track spokesman said there hadn’t been an exchange.

“If they gave us free tickets, we’ll fly their flag and take that one down, I guess,” joked Baker’s husband, Glenn, who was reclining in a nearby chair. “I heard they told fans not to bring them, but I figure that’s going to have the reverse effect for some reason.”

Gerry Baker said she wouldn’t take down her Confederate flag, which flapped in a steady wind beside the American flag, a POW-MIA flag and other pennants honoring Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s former No. 8 Chevrolet.

“I’ve been collecting them for a lot of years at different races, and I fly my flags wherever I go,” said Baker, a North Wilkesboro, N.C., native who has attended NASCAR races for more than 40 years and regularly goes to Daytona, Talladega Superspeedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. “That’s just the way I grew up. I grew up in the country and was Southern-raised and born. It’s pure country. I’ve been a NASCAR fan all my life.

“We’re not flying it for controversy. Every race, we fly it. We’ve got the American flag, the rebel flag, the POW. It all to me goes together. Our freedom.”

“It’s Dixie,” Glenn said.

The couple, which has been parking a camper along Lake Lloyd on the track’s backstretch for nine years, condemned the actions of Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter who killed nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week but questioned if the resultant reaction by NASCAR and other corporations was just. Images surfaced of Roof holding a Confederate flag.

“Why should the Charleston shooting cause this controversy?” Glenn asked. “If the guy had been holding a Bible, would everyone want to ban a bible or something? Where does it stop and common sense take over a little bit?”

Said Gerry: “We’re not doing it for hate, but we do have rights. This is because we have one idiot that held the Confederate flag instead of the American flag or the bible. The flag didn’t hurt anybody. It’s just like trying to outlaw guns. It’s not the guns that do the killing, it’s the idiots that shoot them.”

A canvassing of the Daytona International Speedway infield, where RVs still were streaming in Thursday morning, didn’t reveal any other Confederate flags, though many still were erecting poles.

About 100 yards down the avenue from Gerry Baker’s seat, Daniel Devries affixed an American flag and a banner with the Chevrolet bow-tie logo above the rear of his RV.

“This weekend is about America,” he said. “Any other flag should be part of history.”