Bubba Wallace, NASCAR's only full-time Black driver, said Friday he wouldn't be surprised if some fans protest the circuit's ban on the Confederate flag, sarcastically adding that they'd be safe from police brutality.
NASCAR, a bedrock of Southern culture, stunned fans two weeks by banning the Confederate battle flag from its events in the wake of worldwide protests, sparked by George Floyd's death, against police brutality and systemic racism.
The racist emblem had long been a fixture at NASCAR races, waved by fans in the grandstands and parking lot cookouts. Wallace said a segment of older fans are not happy with the ban and he expects them to make their displeasure known.
"Outside they’re just going to be making a lot of noise," Wallace said during a regularly scheduled briefing. "It’s part of it."
But he derisively observed: ”It’s exactly what you see on the flip side of everything going on and in cities as they peacefully protest. But you won’t see cops pepper-spraying them and shooting them with rubber bullets, will you?"
Police and protesters have clashed in the month since Floyd's death in Minneapolis, most notably in Washington, where National Guard and police used force to clear peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square, just north of the White House.
Authorities in riot gear and armed with pepper spray cleared a path for President Donald Trump and his photo-op at historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, in a move harshly criticized by the church and top military brass.
Wallace said any fans NASCAR loses because of the Confederate flag ban will be made up by new consumers exposed to the sport for the first time.
“It’s their rights for peaceful protest my man. It’s a part of it," Wallace said. "But you won’t see them inside the racetracks where we’re having a good time with the new fans that are purchasing their tickets, purchasing their favorite drivers’ apparel. You won’t see it flying in there."
A small plane flew over Talladega Speedway in Alabama on Sunday, dragging the Confederate flag and a sign, “Defund NASCAR.” A pro-Confederacy group that claimed responsibility for the flyover said it plans to repeat the action at other NASCAR events this year.