NASCAR driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. believes the governing body should outright ban confederate flags from races, the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports drivers said Monday on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.
Wallace spoke with the CNN host about participating in a collective video statement with other big-name NASCAR drivers condemning racism and encouraging others to “listen and learn” as a way to fight injustice. Drivers posted the video to social media before Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and FOX aired it just before the green flag flew.
When Lemon asked Wallace – the only black driver at NASCAR’s top level – what the next step for NASCAR needs to be if it’s committed to fighting racism, the driver said banning the confederate flag, a symbol of slavery that’s often seen at races.
After a white supremacist shot and killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, NASCAR reaffirmed its “long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate Flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity.” But it did not ban the flag.
Wallace said behind-the-scenes conversations are being had to answer questions about future action, but he explained his own suggestion:
“My next step would be to get rid of all confederate flags. There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family that feels some type of way about something they have seen, an object they have seen flying.
“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them. The narrative on that before is I wasn’t bothered by it, but I don’t speak for everybody else. I speak for myself. What I am chasing is checkered flags, and that was kind of my narrative.
“But diving more into it and educating myself, people feel uncomfortable with that. People talk about that. That’s the first thing they bring up. So there’s going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly, but it’s time for change.”
Wallace also spoke about wearing a shirt with “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” written on the front of it. He explained how, especially amid mass protests for justice and against police brutality, Sunday’s pre-race moments were emotional for him.
Before strapping into his No. 43 Chevrolet, Wallace gave his t-shirt to a crew member, who was seen holding it up while FOX aired a statement from NASCAR president Steve Phelps against racism. After a few pace laps before the race began, drivers stopped on the track, and their crew members stood on pit road after Phelps’ remarks for a moment of silence, symbolizing their commitment to listen and learn.
Wallace continued on CNN and spoke about NASCAR official Kirk Price, an Army veteran who kneeled during the pre-race prayer with his fist in the air and national anthem with a military salute. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver said if he had seen Price kneeling at the time, he would have joined him.
“I sat there on the start-finish line with tears in my eyes seeing every crew member stand on the wall, my crew members standing there proudly, holding up the shirt that I had wore pre-race that says, ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and ‘Black Lives Matter.’
“And we had our official, Kirk Price, kneel during the anthem. A member of our community that kneeled during the anthem. An African American man that kneeled during the anthem that also served our country. That speaks volumes.”
Back in 2017 while people continued to argue about athletes protesting racial injustice during the national anthem by kneeling, Richard Petty, the owner of Wallace’s No. 43 Chevrolet, told USA TODAY Sports: “Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period.”
During Wallace’s interview Monday night when Lemon interrupted the driver to ask what his reaction to seeing Price take a knee during the anthem (and pre-race prayer), Wallace explained that the official was too far on pit road to see at the time. But he said he saw images of Price after the race, and he was “blown away by that.”
Wallace continued explaining his emotions on CNN:
“I told Jimmie [Johnson] today, 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. An incredible man that has served our country kneeling down, and people think it’s disrespecting the flag and going against our military. It’s definitely not.
“I was so uneducated on what the kneeling meant when it started. But now, reading about it and what it stands for and what it goes after – 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 across: Listen and learn to be able to better educate ourselves.”
After Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta, Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, a good friend of Wallace’s, were asked about the governing body’s confederate flag policy.
Blaney’s response was similar to Wallace’s, and he said: “I’d love to not see them at the race track, honestly, because it doesn’t make everyone comfortable.” Keselowski, however, said he only salutes the American flag, adding:
“But I’m not gonna tell people they need to get rid of it. That’s not my right either. But I certainly don’t salute it or respect it or probably anyone else who feels the same way. But, at the end of the day, it’s not our call.”
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