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Ban the Confederate flag? NASCAR could see the end of an era

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FILE - In this July 4, 2015, file photo, confederate and American flags fly on top of motor homes at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver in the top tier of NASCAR, calls for a ban on the Confederate flag in the sport that is deeply rooted in the South. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

The familiar scene of Confederate flags waved by fans at NASCAR tracks could soon be a relic of racing’s good ol’ boy roots.

Bubba Wallace — the lone black driver in the sport — wants the stock car series with deep ties to the South to ban the flag at its properties and formally distance itself from what for millions is a symbol of slavery and racism.

There are signs that NASCAR is on its way to that move. As the nation grapples with social unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, the predominantly white field of drivers united for a video promoting social change. A black NASCAR official took a knee before Sunday’s race near Atlanta in what may have been a first for the series, and the governing body vowed to do a better job of addressing racial injustice.

Wallace — who wore a black T-shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe” at Sunday’s race — seized the moment and issued his most compelling comments yet on the topic of race and racing: “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,” Wallace told CNN. “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.”

Wallace arrived in the sport hyped as a trailblazer of sorts in a series that has long lacked diversity in the field. He finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500, but has had limited success and often needed patchwork sponsorship deals to keep racing. His biggest reach for now is as an agent of change: The 26-year-old Alabama native has pushed the issue of race to the front burner for NASCAR.

“We want all to feel welcome at our events in the future,” said Daryl Wolfe, NASCAR executive vice president and chief sales and operations officer.

NASCAR has been more open in recent times to the eradication of the Confederate flag. Former chairman Brian France in 2015 tried to ban the flying of Confederate flags at race tracks, a proposal too broad to enforce and one that angered NASCAR’s core Southern-based fan base.