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Confederate flag in car at NC racetrack prompts apology from race organizers in Winston-Salem
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Confederate flag in car at NC racetrack prompts apology from race organizers in Winston-Salem

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A Confederate flag image is displayed in the rear of driver Lee Stimpson's car during the season opener at Bowman Gray Stadium. NASCAR banned Confederate imagery from all of its tracks last summer.

Organizers of the NASCAR series at Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium apologized this week after a car with a Confederate flag made it onto the track, breaching NASCAR's ban on the symbol.

More than 17,000 show up for the 72nd season of racing at the stadium

"It will not happen again," Gray Garrison, a spokesman for the track, said of the flag, which was inside Lee Stimpson's car on Saturday night.

“We must have just flat-out missed it, so we did miss it, and we apologize and will talk with (Stimpson) about that,” Garrison said.

Stimpson, who raced his No. 45 in the Modified Division's Hayes Jewelers 200, couldn't be reached for comment. It wasn't clear whether he displayed an actual flag on the interior of his car or a painting or decal of the Confederate symbol.

Garrison said he would make sure that Stimpson does not have the symbol in his car if he races again.

Garrison said the ban on the Confederate flag covers all four divisions that race on Saturday nights: Modified, Sportsman, Street Stock and Stadium Stock. 

The City of Winston-Salem owns the track.

Ben Rowe, an assistant city manager who was at the track Saturday night, said he did not see the image but heard about it Monday.

"It was simply an oversight because that's not something that is allowed to be displayed during races," said Rowe, who is responsible for the city's public facilities.

The city doesn't have an ordinance against displaying the flag, Rowe said, but the city will not allow vendors at the Carolina Classic Fair to sell items bearing images of the Confederate flag.

"We go by the rules at the track that are set forth by NASCAR and WSSI (Winston-Salem Speedway Inc.), and we support those rules," Rowe said.

NASCAR banned Confederate imagery at all tracks covering all levels of racing last June after a high-profile incident in which a noose on a garage pull-down rope at Talladega Speedway in Alabama was found in the garage assigned to NASCAR's Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the series. After investigating, the FBI said the noose was on garage door rope since October 2019 and that Wallace was not targeted.

Racing at Bowman Gray Stadium, in its 72nd season, is part of the NASCAR Weekly Series.

Garrison said he and his staff try to ensure that drivers don’t make political statements on their cars.

“We had a couple of drivers who had what looked like a Confederate flag blending into an American flag, and we asked them to cover them up or take them off the car,” Garrison said. “We are very consistent with that policy, and our drivers know it."

Bowman Gray Stadium, which is home to football games for the historically Black university Winston-Salem State during the fall, hosted a sellout crowd of more than 13,000 on opening night, the first track activity since August 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stimpson, from Lewisville, placed 21st after his first race at the track in several years and won $300.

NASCAR's decision to ban Confederate symbols became a flashpoint last summer, which was marked by protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and ongoing tensions over racial divisions. 

Confederate images were also taken down across the country in recent years, including the removal of the Confederate memorial in downtown Winston-Salem in March 2019.

After the Wallace incident, NASCAR took a stand against racism, with a memorable moment at Talladega Superspeedway when drivers gathered with Wallace and pushed his car to the start-finish line before the race.

336-727-4081

@johndellWSJ

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