Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., the only African American driver in NASCAR’s top series, called on the stock car racing association to ban Confederate flags at its events.
“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. It starts with confederate flags,” Wallace told CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday. “Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”
Wallace wore a black T-shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe/Black Lives Matter” to Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway to acknowledge the country’s social unrest.
During warm-up laps, the 40 cars pulled to a stop in front of the empty grandstands and shut off their engines. Afterward, NASCAR President Steve Phelps delivered a message over their radio sets.
The Morning Rundown
Get a head start on the morning’s top stories.
“Our country is in pain and people are justifiably angry, demanding to be heard,” Phelps said as some drivers wiped away tears or held T-shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.” “The black community and all people of color have suffered in our country, and it has taken far too long for us to hear their demands for change. Our sport must do better. Our country must do better.”
Phelps added: “The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission, to take a moment of reflection, to acknowledge that we must do better as a sport, and join us as we now pause and take a moment to listen.”
Wallace and other drivers, such as seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and retired star Dale Earnhardt Jr., appeared in a video that was broadcast Sunday in which they vowed to “listen and learn” from the protests that have rocked the nation and to “no longer be silent.” They also pledged to “work together to make real change.” Several drivers posted the video to their social media accounts.
Wallace, the first African American driver in 50 years to win one of NASCAR’s top three national touring series, has been the sport’s most outspoken voice since George Floyd, who was black, died on May 25 after officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on his neck for more than eight minutes. In a video, Floyd begs as he is pinned on the ground: “Please, please, please. I can’t breathe.” Chauvin, who is white, was fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and arrested on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter. The murder charge was upgraded to second-degree Wednesday.
Since Floyd’s death, officials in numerous states have faced growing pressure to take down Confederate statues and other monuments that many consider symbols of racism.
NASCAR, which once embraced Confederate symbols and has roots in the South, has a checkered racial history.
NASCAR began asking fans to stop bringing Confederate flags to races in 2015, after Dylann Roof killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. After the massacre, photos circulated online of Roof posing with the flag. NASCAR’s request has been ignored by many fans.
Wallace told CNN that in the past, he had not been bothered by the flag. But he said, after educating himself, he sees how uncomfortable it makes people.
“There’s going to be a lot of angry people that carry those flags proudly but it’s time for change,” he said. “We have to change that, and I encourage NASCAR to have those conversations to remove those flags.”