Kirk Price

Bubba Wallace: ‘People are wanting to stand up for what’s right in this world’

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Bubba Wallace knew when he spoke about Black Lives Matter that he would face responses that “all lives matter.”

Wallace, whose car Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway had #BlackLivesMatter on it, explained in a media session Friday about the importance of Black Lives Matter, his form of protest, what’s next and more.

“There is a poster of a little girl that says, yes we said Black Lives Matter, no we did not say only Black Lives Matter,” Wallace said. “We know that all lives matter, but we are trying to make you all understand that Black Lives Matter, too. Too. T-o-o. It’s three letters that is left off that people don’t understand. Black Lives Matter, too.

“Families are worried about their kids going out and driving for the first time and getting pulled over and being killed. The African American community is so worried about that right now. We shouldn’t live like that. The African American community should not live like that. We’re trying to get other people to understand just how tough it is to live in this world right now.”

Bubba Wallace during the national anthem last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wallace also has spread his message by wearing an American Flag face covering and a T-shirt that states “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” during pre-race ceremonies the past two races. “I can’t breathe” is what George Floyd said before he died May 25 after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer put his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. 

While other athletes have kneeled during the national anthem to protest social injustice perviously — NASCAR official Kirk Price, who served in the U.S. Army, kneeled while saluting the flag last weekend at Atlanta — Wallace has remained standing during the anthem the last two races.

Asked if he will kneel during the anthem, Wallace said he is studying the matter. NASCAR recently removed requirements on what team members must do during the national anthem, allowing for peaceful protest.

“I’m still looking up and reading on stuff and learning,” Wallace said. “Exactly what the message we are trying to push across, learn, and understand. I think the messages that I have been putting out there on the racetrack during the anthem is speaking for itself, so I haven’t put much more thought into that.

“I loved that the official Kirk Price took that initiative and stood for what he believed in, kneeled for what he believed it, a man that served our nation in the military kneeled, so I thought that was pretty powerful.”

Some athletes have commented about Wallace on social media, including LeBron James, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

Wallace said he has had conversations with Joshua Dobbs of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two met when Dobbs played quarterback at the University of Tennessee, which is Wallace’s favorite college football team. Dobbs was among the Jacksonville Jaguar players and team officials who protested racial inequality and police brutality during a June 5 march from their stadium to the steps of the sheriff’s department.

“He reached out last night with some powerful quotes that he lives by and made a ton of sense and just kind of fit the narrative that we are living in the world today,” Wallace said. “There’s been a lot of outreach just from social media fan points, privately, that was probably one of the ones; but there is a lot of support in my corner from all aspects; from sports, from just normal people, people that are wanting to stand up for what’s right in this world.”

As for what is next, Wallace said he isn’t sure. He has ideas and is looking forward to a meeting Tuesday between “key leaders” in NASCAR and select drivers. They’ll discuss what more the sport can do after announcing this week it is prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag at all NASCAR events and facilities.

Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic that fans will be in the stands for a race since the NASCAR season resumed last month. Up to 1,000 military guests and family members will be allowed at the race. Up to 5,000 fans will be allowed for the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. As of Friday afternoon, tickets remained for that race.

Wallace looks forward to the return of fans and seeing more at races at some point.

“I would love to see us get back to normal and fans to come back in full capacity just to see how much more diverse or different demographics we bring in,” Wallace said. “I would love to see studies on that as we start allowing fans to come back.”

Wallace also knows that being more vocal can make him a target to some.

“I like to go out and sometimes spend time in the infield with the fans and have a good time,” Wallace said. “I haven’t been ridiculed against. I know that is going to change now. I’ve got to be careful what I do and that’s kind of the sad world we live in. My dad had texted me that he was proud of what I was doing on and off the racetrack, but he was worried about safety, going out in public and whatnot. Just crazy that you have to think about that sides of things.”

“Definitely have got to watch your back now and can’t be like that outspoken guy, just happy-go-lucky guy that would go take a trip on the golf cart or my longboard down into the infield, or whatever, and have a good time.”

NASCAR to allow peaceful protests during national anthem

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NASCAR has removed guidelines that team members must stand for the national anthem, opening the way for peaceful protests during pre-race ceremonies.

NASCAR eliminated the guidelines before last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. NASCAR official Kirk Price kneeled during the invocation and raised a fist. Price, who served on active duty in the U.S. Army for three years, remained kneeling during the anthem while he saluted the flag.

Bubba Wallace praised Price in an interview this week on CNN.

“If I would have seen it, I would have went there and stood next to him, kneeled next to him because it’s such a powerful move,” said Wallace, the lone black driver competing in NASCAR’s top series. “A man, an incredible man, who has served our country, kneeling down. People think it’s disrespecting the flag and going against our military, and it’s definitely not.

“I was so uneducated what the kneeling meant when it started but now reading about it and what it stands for … and I’m still doing a lot of learning myself, don’t get me wrong, I don’t know everything about what’s going on in the world but that’s what we are trying to deliver the message. Listen and learn to be able to better educate ourselves.”

NASCAR’s change on requirements for team members during the anthem was first reported by Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports. The Cup Series races tonight at Martinsville Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FS1).

Previously, crew chiefs were given a handout at the driver/crew chief meeting that included the following at the bottom of the page:

DRIVERS AND CREW CHIEFS, please advise all your Team members: Conduct during the playing of the National Anthem, taken from the US Flag Code. When the flag is displayed – all persons should face and stand at attention with their right hand over their heart – persons should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart – when the flag is not displayed – all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

That section has been eliminated. The change in policy comes less than three years after two car owners said they were against protest during the national anthem. 

NASCAR official: ‘I believe in humble protesting’

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A black NASCAR official who saluted the flag from his knee during the national anthem Sunday told The Charlotte Observer that “I come from humble beginnings and I believe in humble protesting.”

Kirk Price, a NASCAR technical inspector, took a knee and raised his right fist during the invocation before Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Price, who told the Observer that he served on active duty for three years in the U.S. Army, remained kneeling while saluting the flag during the National Anthem.

“I wasn’t thinking about anybody else,” Price told the Observer. “I’m 49 years old and I’ve already witnessed things through what’s going on in the world as we speak.

“I could only think about ‘What can I do to make the world a better place?’ To where this gets out to where people can understand.”

Price’s action was among many before Sunday’s race by NASCAR addressing social injustice.

Bubba Wallace wears a “I Can’t Breathe, Black Lives Matter” shirt before Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Bubba Wallace wore a T-shirt that read “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” over his racing uniform before the race. “I can’t breathe” were the last words of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day after a former Minneapolis police officer pinned him down by placing a knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

NASCAR drivers came together this week to make a video that condemns racial inequality and racism. As part of the video, which was released before Sunday’s race, drivers said: “All of our voices, they make a difference. No matter how big or how small, it is all of our responsibility to no longer be silent.”

Series officials stopped the field on the frontstretch before the race and NASCAR President Steve Phelps read a message that included: “The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission.”

After Phelps spoke, a moment of silence was observed.

After the race, Ryan Blaney said he had attended peaceful protests this past week.

“That’s just something that you want to get involved with and support your fellow human being,” Blaney said. “We all have to treat each other equally. It kind of disgusts me when the race thing comes up and people hate a person for being a different pigment and not judging them by their character.”