DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – NASCAR’s national series tracks announced Thursday that they are asking fans to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag at races following the deadly attack at a South Carolina church two weeks ago.
The facilities vowed to have the most “welcoming environments in all of sports and entertainment.”
The statement was signed by International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc. – which own most of the tracks in the Sprint Cup Series, stretching from Florida to New York to California – as well as 30 specific tracks. It also includes independent tracks such as Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, Pocono Raceway and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“We are asking our fans and partners to join us in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive, even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend our events,” the statement read. “This will include the request to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag at our facilities and NASCAR events.”
The move follows NASCAR’s statement last week reiterating that the flag is banned from official use at its events. And it comes ahead of Sunday’s race at Daytona International Speedway – the first in the South since the mid-June attack that left nine black churchgoers dead in Charleston. The suspect had embraced Confederate symbols, including the battle flag.
Daytona is planning to hold a voluntary exchange program this weekend in which fans can swap any flag of their choice for an American flag.
“We want to be inclusive to everyone, and the last thing you want is for anyone to come to a sporting event and really not enjoy that experience because of symbols that really represent things we’re not proud of,” track President Joie Chitwood said. “Going forward, we’ll really have to look at where that other flag goes, because it doesn’t have a place in our sport and we’ve got to take a thoughtful process on how we get to that place.”
ISC, a sister company of NASCAR, owns 13 facilities that signed the statement. SMI, the Bruton Smith-owned rival to ISC, had its eight properties listed as supporting NASCAR. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was among the independents taking part.
Drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. have been outspoken against the flag. NASCAR Chairman Brian France last week called the flag a symbol he finds offensive and said he wants to be as aggressive as possible in barring it from sanctioned events.
France said he was unsure what steps track promoters can legally take to prohibit the flag and acknowledged that enforcing a ban would be challenging when it comes to tens of thousands of fans on the sprawling properties. France stressed that the flag, while part of NASCAR’s roots as a series for old bootleggers, is not indicative of what the sport represents and he had hinted that the series was working with the industry on options.
“Obviously, we have our roots in the South, there are events in the South, it’s part of our history like it is for the country,” France told The Associated Press. “But it needs to be just that, part of our history. It isn’t part of our future.”