Op-Ed: NASCAR needs to ban Trump flags ahead of the 2021 season
Updated: Feb 15
The one-time driver of Richard Petty's infamous No. 43 car moves on to new ownership with sports icon and NBA legend Michael Jordan, who starts up 23XI racing with two-time defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. A first for Jordan in the sport after sponsoring Hamlin's No. 11 team at Joe Gibbs Racing over the past decade.
Wallace has faced adversity over the past year. He was one of the first people to call for NASCAR to ban Confederate flags from its events. Two days later, the auto racing body heard Wallace's demand by calling for the symbol of hate and oppression often used by white supremacist to not be allowed by fans into the infield or grandstands of racetracks.
With COVID-19 keeping fans sidelined from tracks, and attendance being at a minimum over the past year, the need to enforce the Confederate flag ban has been stagnant for NASCAR. Now with the sport coming back into the swing of accommodating fans on a more regular basis, they'll be faced with another tough decision to restrict spectators who still openly support Donald Trump.
If you've been to a NASCAR race over the past four years, you've probably noticed the love affair between Trump and those people in attendance. While support of the former president was acceptable on a base level during his time in office, given the events of insurrection at the U.S. Capitol which was sparked by Trump on January 6th, it is time to "turn the page."
NASCAR needs to show the world they're "all-in" for diversity and inclusion by banning Trump flags and other symbolic property used as racist propaganda from race tracks across the country.
At this point, there's no significant difference between the Confederate flag and the ones flying for the 45th President of the United States. And, ironically, the same base of fans who've traditionally used the treasonous flag of the country's past as a crutch are the same ones using Trump's branding to show their support for a racist, xenophobia, homophobic and sexist agenda.
As the accomplishments of African-American's like Wallace and trailblazer driver Wendell Scott have been celebrated during Black history month, it's not enough for the world of professional stock car racing to just to mark their existence in the heavily-white dominated sport, but create a new avenue for those people of color to come up through the lower divisions of NASCAR in an environment free from racism and discrimination.
We're at a pivotal point in the country's history where the strength of our democracy is at-stake. No other time in history has a sitting president led calls for an attack on the U.S. Capitol and members of congress. As Trump faces repercussions for his actions, NASCAR can take a step forward by shedding the image of the former president and his supporters.
It was just a year ago Trump was invited to be the Grand Marshall for the Daytona 500. He took the opportunity to stage a glorified campaign appearance behind a backdrop of NASCAR's biggest event. A spectacle like none other with the presidential motorcade taking laps around the superspeedway before Trump went across the way to the airport and flew Air Force One over the sellout crowd of more than 150,000 people in attendance.
The 2020 year of COVID put a lot into perspective for NASCAR. As one of the first in sports to accommodate fans back at live events, it created a sense of normalcy when the country needed it the most. Although, what crept in the shadows was another pandemic that has been alive and well in NASCAR's culture since its existence. An illness Wallace came face-to-face with at his home track, leaving him wondering about his future in the sport and questioning the motives of those around him.
On Sunday, June 21, the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was postponed a day later due to inclement weather in central Alabama. A race weekend with tensions running high, not from the competition on the track, but stemming from a decision by NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag from the track just days prior. It was inevitable news that hit some fans harder than others. One unidentified person even flew a small prop plane over the pride and joy of Talladega's best with a rebel flag banner dragging behind it.
A decision that was welcomed by new advertisers to the sport, but rejected by the older generation of race fans who've beat the "heritage not hate" drum for years as an excuse for their racism. The display of bigotry was also a prime example of how white privilege was on death row in the world of NASCAR. And no matter how hard those supporters fought to reverse course, change was sweeping across the line.
What happened next would throw the ugliness of NASCAR's history into every news cycle of headlines for the coming weeks.
On that night, Wallace received a phone call from NASCAR President Steve Phelps who informed him of a noose found hanging in his Talladega Superspeedway garage stall. The incident which was first reported by Bubba's mechanic sent shock waves throughout the country during a time of unrest from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
Wallace was angry. He was also saddened by what appeared to be a hate crime directed toward him.
The FBI and NASCAR investigated the incident and determined that no hate crime was committed against the sport's only Black driver. The noose, later called a pull rope, was attached to the garage door and had been in place since as early as last fall, the FBI said.
A severe round of backlash against Wallace and NASCAR ensued from what some people called a coordinated PR stunt. It left a stain on the sport because of the imagery of a noose and what it represented.
"NASCAR asked officials at every track to check their garages the week of the incident. Out of 1,684 garage stalls at 29 tracks, only 11 had a garage door pull-down rope tied in a knot. The only one fashioned in a noose was the one discovered Sunday by a crew member in Wallace’s No. 43 garage stall."
Every driver and crew member in NASCAR's cup series rallied behind Bubba Wallace after the noose incident, pushing his car to the front of pit road in a powerful moment of unity.
It's time for NASCAR to carry that same energy when it comes to the future of the sport. And that starts with a ban on all Trump flags from races. A significant step to show people there's a new day in NASCAR and they're going to be ahead of the curve when it comes to relevant changes in the world.