Confederate flags lined the boulevard running past Talladega Superspeedway. A plane overhead toted a large rebel flag and a message: “Defund NASCAR.”
And this was all before we found out that a noose had been found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace’s garage.
Does anybody out there still want to preach the nonsense about how this is all heritage, not hate?
“Nothing is more important, and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate,” Wallace, NASCAR’s only African-American driver, wrote on Twitter.
“As my mother told me today, “They are just trying to scare you.” This will not break me, I will not give in, nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”
NASCAR had announced a ban on the display of Confederate flags back on June 10, saying the flag “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.”
The move came against the backdrop of weeks of ongoing nationwide protests following the murder of an African-American man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
The display of Confederate flags by fans at tracks has been a hot-button issue in recent years as NASCAR has tried to build its brand outside its traditional southern base.
Wallace had pushed the ban, saying “(n)o 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.”
But he also acknowledged that there were “going to be a lot of angry people,” and there certainly were, on social media, anyway.
With public health restrictions keeping fans away from the track the past few weeks, whatever there was in the form of tensions had to stay virtual.
But the race at Talladega, which ended up being postponed to today because of rain, was to be the first with a fan presence, with NASCAR permitting 5,000 fans to attend.
Obviously, the first time out, even with that relative trickle of fans, did not go well, and from here, it will be interesting to see how the racing series, and its drivers, respond.
The noose gets the headlines as the most blatant form of intimidation, but don’t overlook the stubborn displays of the flag around the periphery and airspace at the track.
The flag endures as a symbol for white southerners because it harkens back to a social order that was obviously advantageous, both pre-Civil War, then after with Jim Crow, to wherever we are today, with the racial codes taken off the books, but the effect still being similar to what it was 60 years ago.
The world is changing, NASCAR is changing, and the people frightened by the changes are trying to protect their turf.
That’s what the Confederate flag has been about all these years anyway.
It’s folks wanting things to go back to where they were.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but you knew that already.
Story by Chris Graham