A story about Dale Earnhardt and the Confederate flag

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What would Dale Earnhardt do?

It’s a question that frequently has been asked in NASCAR Nation since the seven-time champion perished in a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Besides being an immensely talented driver, Earnhardt also was a towering icon whose voice could set the direction and tone of NASCAR because he had the ear of many power brokers — particularly those of the France family. It’s natural to wonder how “The Intimidator” would have weighed in on the current controversies and pressing issues facing NASCAR.

With the Sprint Cup Series back at Daytona International Speedway for Sunday night’s Coke Zero 400 (which will mark the debut of NBC this season), how might Earnhardt have viewed this past week’s hullabaloo over NASCAR and its tracks asking fans to stop displaying Confederate flags at races?

A recent episode of Fast Lane Family, a weekly podcast (available as a free download on iTunes) hosted by Earnhardt’s oldest daughter, Kelley, might shed some light.

During an April 29 show coinciding with what would have been her father’s 64th birthday, Kelley Earnhardt Miller took fans’ questions about the legend and shared a story that “will show a lot about my dad’s heart and just how he cared for people because he was very intimidating.

“On my dad’s truck, he had this sticker with a rebel flag that said ‘American by birth, Southern by the grace of God.’ At the time, we had this housekeeper named Ann, and she was the most awesome lady. She was an African-American lady, and she asked my stepmother about my dad’s rebel flag on the back of his truck.

“And so the next thing we know my dad’s out there with a knife and a razor blade, and he’s cutting the rebel flag out of the sticker. He didn’t want to offend anybody or make anybody mad in that manner. It was so sweet. It was a little kind-hearted thing. She just thought that was the best. She’s like, ‘That’s just so awesome that you would do that.’ He had a good heart, a big heart.”

That part of his legacy has been carried on by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who weighed in strongly on the flag last week and declared it “offensive to an entire race … it belongs in the history books. That’s about it.”