NASCAR, Darlington parent company back flag’s removal

NASCAR fans display the Confederate battle flag in the infield during last year’s event at Darlington Raceway.

The Southern 500 is moving back to Labor Day weekend, but there’s another tradition NASCAR would rather not see return to Darlington Raceway.

Stock-car racing’s top sanctioning body issued a statement Tuesday supporting Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in the wake of nine churchgoers slain by a gunman at Emanuel AME in Charleston.

Darlington, where the flag has long been popular among many fans, hosts a Sprint Cup Series event Sept. 6.

“NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate Flag on Monday,” the statement said. “As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate Flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity. While NASCAR acknowledges that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our events.”

The statement also said, “As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted.”

Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old native of the Columbia area who has shown interest in racial segregation and the Confederacy and has posed for pictures with the Confederate flag, has been charged with the murders.

It’s often not difficult to find Confederate flags flying from tents or RVs in the infield at Darlington, NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway. The track’s tradition is particularly evident this year, as the Southern 500 returns to Labor Day weekend, a spot it occupied on the racing calendar from its founding in 1950 through 2003.

Darlington president Chip Wile did not return a request for comment. A spokesman later said the track would defer to a statement made by John Saunders, the president of International Speedway Corp. — the NASCAR-affiliated company which owns Darlington and 12 other tracks — who also supported Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag.

“We join NASCAR in support of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s position on the Confederate Flag,” Saunders said. “ISC strives to ensure all fans are welcome to enjoy our events and maintains an inclusive environment at our facilities nationwide. ISC will continue our long-standing practice to prohibit the sale of Confederate flag material on our property.”