Could NASCAR's attempt at political correctness backfire on its business end?
1. Some NASCAR fan in the infield of the Daytona International Speedway will become famous this weekend. He or she – most likely he – will be displaying the Confederate flag, and the mainstream media will quadruple-team him, looking for sound-bite insights into his insensitivity. Likely, he will not make his case very well. All the better for the media, looking to use him as an example of the “average” NASCAR fan. Friday, the Great Confederate Flag Hunt had already begun. There’s six Confederate flags in the infield! No, ten! No, three!
2. NASCAR in general, and Brian France in particular, must to do a better job of explaining the corporate transition from the time when it was OK for NASCAR tracks to use the Confederate flag in advertisements for races like the Dixie 500, to the point where NASCAR is now.
3. Comparing the Confederate flag to the Nazi swastika is just bizarre on multiple levels.
4. This corporate awakening, not just for NASCAR, but for the country in general, is credited in the media to the June 17 massacre of nine people in the church in Charleston by a 21-year-old cretin – sorry, alleged cretin – who actually sat with these people, who welcomed him to their Bible study, and then massacred them. The Confederate flag was at least marginally acceptable on June 16, unacceptable on June 18. That is not exactly the sort of foundation on which meaningful, lasting change is built. TV Land pulling "Dukes of Hazzard" from the schedule? That's our barometer of a significant social shift? Really?
5. Motorsport.com’s Lee Spencer wrote about NASCAR’s aggressive policy to sort-of-semi-ban the Confederate flag from races a couple of days ago. Of the over 200 comments, a rough estimate is that about 85 percent of the commenters don’t like NASCAR’s policy. A troubling number – for NASCAR, anyway – are complaining not because they can no longer fly the Confederate flag, but because they don’t like NASCAR telling them what they can or can’t do, after NASCAR takes their money. Some cite the First Amendment. Some suggest that NASCAR’s policy of being all-inclusive is being achieved by excluding some longtime and loyal fans. This can’t be ignored by NASCAR, as a story on the Confederate flag semi-ban at Daytona on NASCAR.com posted July 3rd generated 21 comments at last look, and all 21 were complaining about NASCAR’s position.
6. This will be a non-story by the New Hampshire race July 19. It may resurface at Darlington (September 6) and Talladega (October 25), but probably not as headline material, unless there’s some sort of grassroots protest – either by fans of the flag, enemies of the flag, or both. This prediction could change if some really major global event occurs, such as Caitlyn Jenner changing back into a dude.
7. Joie Chitwood III, president of Daytona International Speedway, is presiding over the largest, most extensive makeover ever of a major American speedway ever, as the $400 million DAYTONA Rising project turns Daytona not into just a better race track, but an entertainment venue seating 100,000-plus people. This project is a template for how NASCAR and the International Speedway Corporation could re-invent their venues across the country. Chitwood probably wouldn’t mind some sort of positive distraction that would take the public eye off the 50,000 seats that are still under construction, and our last look at the Superstretch grandstands before they tumble, but this controversy isn’t it.
8. The media will be watching closely how the track’s trade-your-Rebel-flag-for-an-American-flag program works, and expect these two questions: Exactly what happens to the Confederate flags collected? And are all those American flags made in America? Knowing Chitwood, perhaps the most media-savvy track president since Humpy Wheeler, he’ll have solid answers.
9. You can also bet NBC has been instructed to pay as little attention as possible to the Confederate flag controversy during the actual racing telecast. And that track security has a firm and reasoned policy on how to handle fans who might choose to fly the Confederate flag. The last thing NASCAR needs is footage of some Confederate flag-waving fans dragged out of the stands or across the infield by police. The next-to-last thing they need are fights that may break out among pro- and anti-Confederate flag factions. A win by either one of the two fastest drivers in Friday practice, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. or Danica Patrick, would go a long way toward returning the focus to the racing. In the words of Norman Vincent Peale, born in the Union state of Ohio: “Expect a miracle!”
10. And finally: I was born and raised in the South, to parents and grandparents and probably great-grandparents who were born and raised in the South. I have never owned nor flown a Confederate flag. To me, it has always meant just one thing: The South. It was a mildly cartoonish image that seemingly belonged on top of Bo and Luke Duke’s Dodge Charger, but now, after the church massacre on June 17, apparently it doesn’t belong anywhere. John Oliver, the British comedian, spent some time this week lecturing us on how bad the Confederate flag is. I don’t care what John Oliver thinks. Sean Hannity said that if Walmart bans the sale of the Confederate flag, it should ban a lot of rap albums. I don’t care what Sean Hannity thinks. If I want to contemplate the gravity of the Civil War, which my ancestors may or may not have been involved in, I’ll visit battlefields like Vicksburg or Natural Bridge or Antietam, which I have done, or graveyards like the ones at Shiloh or Hollywood Cemetery. Now, the 154-year-old Confederate flag apparently means only one thing: Racism. If eliminating the flag means we eliminate racism, go for it. But I think those convinced that it will might be disappointed.