Flag ban fallout: Now comes the tricky part for NASCAR

NASCAR’s decision to ban the Southern flag from its races and locations made headlines and stars like actress Reese Witherspoon and New Orleans Saints chasing Alvin Kamara were quick to praise the stock car series for stripping them of a symbol that has long been associated with slavery and racism.

Now comes the tricky part.

In a few days, NASCAR will be faced with a tricky question: How can the ban be enforced on its sprawling, noisy tracks once fans get back in and campers start setting up their RVs for race weekends? About 1,000 members of the military are admitted to Sunday’s race near Miami and become the first fans at a NASCAR event since the pandemic ended the sport in March.

The enforcement issue is much more likely if the series runs from June 20-21 in Talladega, Alabama, admitting up to 5,000 fans. Flags are a common sight on the high-speed road in the heart of NASCAR’s Southern base.

“That will certainly be a challenge. We will try to do that the right way, ”NASCAR Vice President Steve O’Donnell told SiriusXM on Thursday. “We’re ahead of the way we are now by letting people know that,” Hey, we’re all about pride, we’re all about America, wave your American flag high, fly your flags high and come in “But if we we will respond and we will see something on the track. More details will follow, but I am convinced that we will do that and that we will do it in a smart way. “

Fellow drivers were quick to credit NASAAR’s only black driver Bubba Wallace for pushing NASCAR to introduce the ban. Years of bad press and wringing about the fate of the flag evaporated within 48 hours of Wallace publicly condemning the relic of the good old boy roots.

“I’ve seen too many comments and too many stories from new fans coming to a race in recent years and the first thing they say: ‘I saw the Southern flag flying and I was uncomfortable with it,'” Wallace told the show “Today”. “We shouldn’t make everyone feel uncomfortable.”

Wallace finished eleventh in Martinsville on Wednesday evening, hours after the ban was announced, riding a Black Lives Matter livery with “Compassion, Love, Understanding” on the hood.

“It was really cool to see what Bubba could do,” said 2018 NASCAR champion Joey Logano. “He should be proud of the movement he has made for the African American community in our sport. He should always be just here, but if you look at the comments he recently made on CNN, and NASCAR answered it completely. A Kudos to NASCAR. Kudos to Bubba for bringing it up and using his platform for something good. “

Of course, there were fans outraged at the decision, crying on social media that their rights were being trampled on and that they would keep waving the stars and bars. NASCAR helmet artist Jason Beam, who designs for Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and other star drivers, tweeted that he was not in favor of “erasing only certain elements of history” to please a particular audience.

Wallace tore Beam on social media and tweeted, “You’ve made it clear where you stand in the matter today. Lost all respect to ya dawg. ‘

Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, also cut ties with BEAMdesigns.

“Due to recent social media posts, I decided to end my relationship with Beam Designs,” tweeted Johnson.

For weeks, NASCAR was the only live American sport on television, and viewership is high in this most unusual season. During the first 11 races, Cup Series races on FOX / FS1 have an average share of 2.38, up 1% from last year’s average of 2.35 out of 44 market averages.

And now comes the publicity around the flag ban.

“As for optics, NASCAR had no choice,” said NASCAR historian Dan Pierce. “I applaud the drivers to get up. But the cynical person in me, especially when dealing with NASCAR, is: Did they get the good from their sponsors or NASCAR beforehand? You have to give them the honor of taking a stand, which isn’t necessarily popular with a significant portion of their fan base. “