NASCAR official: Sport ‘in a better place’ with Confederate flag ban

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After NASCAR announced Wednesday that it was prohibiting the Confederate flag at all its events and properties, some fans stated on social media that they would no longer purchase tickets or watch the sport.

Asked how he would respond to those feeling that way, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday:

“I say I feel sorry for them,” he said. “I’m sad, but for us long-term we’ll be in a better place and the amount of people that are talking about NASCAR, that are now interested in NASCAR, that now feel like it’s a potentially safe place to actually go and watch a race, which I can’t imagine someone would feel it wasn’t in the past but that was true, and to be able to open our sport to all, I’ll take that all day long.

“I’ll defend that all day long and any message that I get on social media I’m happy to defend and think we’re making the right move today. It’s not an easy move but long-term it’s the right move for the sport and it’s the right move, I believe, for the country.”

Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be the first series event with fans in the stands since racing resumed following the COVID-19 hiatus. Up to 1,000 South Florida military service members will be invited to watch the race. The June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway will have up to 5,000 fans in attendance.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. (Photo: Getty Images)

Asked how NASCAR will enforce the Confederate flag ban, O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio:

“That will certainly be a challenge. We’ll try to do that the right way. We’ll get ahead of it as we are today in letting people know that, ‘Hey, we’re all about pride, we’re all about America, fly your U.S. flag high, fly your driver’s flags high and come on into the track.’ But if we see something displayed at the track we’re going to have react and we will. More details to come but I’m confident we’ll do that and we’ll do that in a smart way.”

O’Donnell also discussed the decision to prohibit the Confederate flag.

Asked when the discussions first began, O’Donnell said:

“I think it actually has been for a while when you look at the initiatives we’ve had internally to really and try to promote diversity within our sport and do what we can. Really over the past year, I think you look internally for us, speaking to our diverse employees, trying to be more diverse as a sanctioning body, as an industry and candidly doing a lot of listening.

“What you hear is just a divisiveness regarding the flag was one of the biggest issues. I understand how some people may want to fly the flag and feel as though that it is their right, but the impact that has, the negative impact that (it) has had not only on potential fans but even on our own employees, and to hear the emotion from them especially over the last couple of weeks on what that has meant to them, how they have to defend it to their friends who want to be NASCAR fans and can’t be candidly because of that.

“It just makes you sad and you talk to co-workers who are friends of yours and you want to do the right thing. I think it was just a tipping point internally that a lot of us said enough and let’s do what we all believe is right. Why wouldn’t we want the sport open to as many people as possible? We all love it and let’s expose it to everyone and have everyone be a fan.”