NASCAR in 'Better Place' After Confederate Flag Ban, Exec. Vice President Says

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2020

Joey Logano (22) and Corey LaJoie, left, come through a turn during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Martinsville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Steve Helber/Associated Press

NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O'Donnell believes NASCAR's ban on Confederate flags at races and on their property is a step in the right direction for the sport.

Appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (h/t NBC Sports' Dustin Long) on Thursday, O'Donnell was asked how he would respond to those who are upset about the ban and have said they will stop going to races:

"I say I feel sorry for them. I'm sad, but for us long-term we'll be in a better place and the amount of people that are talking about NASCAR, that are now interested in NASCAR, that now feel like it's a potentially safe place to actually go and watch a race, which I can't imagine someone would feel it wasn't in the past but that was true, and to be able to open our sport to all, I'll take that all day long.

"I'll defend that all day long and any message that I get on social media I'm happy to defend and think we're making the right move today. It's not an easy move but long-term it's the right move for the sport and it's the right move, I believe, for the country."

NASCAR officially banned Confederate flags at all tracks Wednesday and released the following statement on the decision:

"The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties."

NASCAR made the move after Bubba Wallace, who is the only black driver in any of its three national series, spoke out about the presence of the Confederate flag amid high racial tensions in the United States following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man accused of forgery, while in Minneapolis Police custody on May 25.

Wallace, an Alabama native, told CNN's Don Lemon on Monday that he believed that symbol should be banned at races and added: "No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. It starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them."

NASCAR is the first major American sport that returned to action amid the coronavirus pandemic a few weeks ago with no fans in attendance.

The company's first opportunity to enforce the ban on Confederate flags will come June 21, as up to 5,000 fans are being permitted to attend the Cup Series race at Talladega in Alabama.

O'Donnell, who also serves as the company's chief racing development officer, said enforcing the ban will be a "challenge" for NASCAR once more fans are able to attend, but it is a move in the interest of inclusiveness that could potentially help grow NASCAR's fanbase moving forward.