As protests continue around the country, NASCAR’s only black full-time driver is speaking out against racism. In a Monday CNN interview, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. called for a ban on Confederate flags at NASCAR events. Wallace’s no. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 will also wear a #BlackLivesMatter livery for Wednesday night’s Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
“My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags,” Wallace said in the interview. “Get them out of here.”
Wallace hasn’t always felt so strongly about the Confederate flag, but the 26-year-old Alabama native said recently he has learned more about what the flag represents. The flag was created as the symbol for a movement to preserve slavery and, while white Southerners claimed it as a symbol of heritage in the postbellum era, the Confederate flag is still associated with racism and white supremacy.
Motor Authority reached out to Richard Petty Motorsports for comment on the change Wallace can bring to NASCAR, and a spokeswoman responded by email, saying “Wallace has used this moment to elevate the conversation toward productive action and lasting, positive change within NASCAR.”
We will follow up with the race team, but in the meantime Wallace had more to say to CNN. “What I’m chasing is checkered flags, and that was kind of my narrative,” Wallace said. “But diving more into it and educating myself, people feel uncomfortable with that—that’s the first thing they bring up.”
The Confederate flag has long been associated with NASCAR, which has deep roots in the South. For decades, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina hosted the Rebel 400, which featured the flag prominently.
In 2015, after a white supremacist killed nine African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, then-NASCAR CEO Brian France called the flag an “offensive and divisive symbol.”
NASCAR #BlackLivesMatter Chevrolet Camaro (Photo by Richard Petty Motorsports via Twitter)
NASCAR also moved to distance itself from the flag, but stopped short of an outright ban. Instead, officials “requested” that fans stop bringing the flag to races.
There won’t be any Confederate flags in the stands at Martinsville Wednesday night, but only because NASCAR is running the race without fans due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Wallace’s race car will wear a special #BlackLivesMatter livery, with an image of clasped white and black hands on the hood, and the slogan “compassion, love, understanding.” Even without fans in attendance, Wallace expects the livery to further the conversation on race.
“Running this race car. Being on live television. I think its going to speak volumes for what I stand for, but also what the initiative that NASCAR, the whole sport, is trying to push,” Wallace said in a statement on NASCAR’s website.
In 2017, before Wallace began driving for the team, owner Richard Petty was one of a handful of NASCAR personalities to speak out against protests against racism and police brutality that were happening at that time. The legendary driver known as “The King” said that if any of his employees took a knee during the national anthem, as NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others were doing, they would be fired.
Update: This story has been updated with a quote from Richard Petty Motorsport.