NASCAR fan Alex Lee says that if the Confederate flag he’s displaying this weekend at Daytona International Speedway was to be banned by the track, he’d come anyway.
But it’s not prohibited, so the flag remained draped at his infield campsite Friday as Lee and roommate Zeca Gama awaited Saturday’s Subway 200 Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400.
“I don’t fly (the flag) out of disrespect to anybody or to offend anybody,” said Lee, “or to make anybody think I’m a certain way. I am who I am. But I was brought up down here in the South. Southern hospitality: You’ve got to give it to get it. It’s not what these simple-minded people are, using it as an excuse to stir up whatever.”
Although NASCAR-sanctioned tracks including Daytona are discouraging fans to fly the Confederate flag, doing so is still permissible. But only a few flew Friday morning as the track slowly began to fill with fans.
The flag issue has come to the forefront after nine African-Americans were shot to death in a Charleston church in June. Dylann Roof, the accused killer, posed with the Confederate flag before the killings.
But while the flag was long ago banned for use in any kind of official capacity by NASCAR, there are few places where Confederate flags have been as prominent as they are in the infield during a race weekend. Despite recent pronouncements against the flag by NASCAR Chairman Brian France, drivers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and this week’s joint statement by 30 tracks, there were still a handful flying Friday morning at Daytona. The American flag, along with those supporting various drivers, was far more prevalent.
“There’s a lot of things that offend me and nobody is doing anything about it,” said Lee, who is from Lake Wales, Fla. “They fly the gay flag in Tampa and I’m supposed to accept that and be OK with it. I’m not.”
The Daytona track is offering an exchange program in which fans can trade a Confederate flag for an American flag. Track President Joie Chitwood said that as of midday Friday he was unaware of any Confederate flags being turned in.
Declining to participate was John Wilson of Dunnellon, Fla. His Confederate flag was joined at his infield campsite by the American flag, a POW/MIA flag and the Jolly Roger.
Nobody, he said, will tell him to take his Confederate flag down.
“If they did, they’d have a (heck) of a fight on their hands,” he said. “Otherwise, I’d just stay home and watch the race on TV. I wouldn’t waste my money coming here.”