Southern roots denied
Bill Fishburne’s article for the Asheville Tribune reports on a protest against NASCAR’s recent anti-Southern decision and apparent contempt for its roots by a leading Southern heritage advocate:
H.K. Edgerton, Asheville’s foremost defender of the shared Southern bond between blacks and whites, was at it again last week as he picketed a NASCAR International Motorsports Hall of Fame hauler parked in front of a store on Patton Avenue.
Edgerton, a former president of the Asheville branch of the NAACP, says he marches and protests discrimination against the Southern heritage that he and his extended family share with their white brothers.
The cause of the most recent protest, Edgerton said, was comments made by NASCAR officials and their most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., regarding “rednecks” and the Confederate flag.
Darryl Starnes of Mechanicsville, Va., is the national Chief of Heritage Defense for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. To Starnes, many of NASCAR’s actions have been taken to minimize the Southern image of the nation’s most popular sanctioning body and have ended up hurting the sport’s popularity as well as race attendance.
“NASCAR said they wanted to get away from their redneck roots,” Starnes says, “then Dale Earnhardt, Jr., made a remark that anyone who flew the Confederate flag was “ignorant”. Many SCV members and supporters are NASCAR fans.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, grandson of founder Bill France, Sr., apparently started the issue when he told CBS reporter Leslie Stahl, in a “60 Minutes” interview in 2005, that with regard to spectators flying the Confederate flag in the infield, “I think it’s a fading image,” France said. “Well, look. I can’t – these are massive facilities. And I can’t tell people what flag to fly. I can tell you the flag we get behind. It’s the American flag.”
According to a CBS transcript of the Oct. 6, 2005 interview, “France would love to tell fans not to fly the Confederate flag if he could. ‘It’s not a flag I look at with anything favorable. That’s for sure.’”
Starnes recognizes that SCV efforts alone won’t change NASCAR’s corporate mind, but he recounts with glee the response they had last year when they attended five NASCAR races and passed out thousands of Confederate battle flags with borders trimmed with black and white checks, as in a checkered flag.
“We started giving away confederate flags with checkered flag borders to races. We did it at Talladega, Bristol, Atlanta, Richmond and Darlington. We got excellent reception from fans. We had a plane at the tracks trailing a large Confederate flag and a banner that said, “NASCAR don’t forget your roots”. Entire grandstands would stand up and cheer as it came over their section of the racetrack. It was very well received. After we gave them all away fans deluged us to get one. After the races it continued, people really wanted the flag.”
With some degree of satisfaction in his voice, Starnes said, “We have noticed that NASCAR attendance has fallen off. NASCAR has said attendance has been off, and the organization would go more slowly in their changes.”