Confederate group says it authorized ‘Defund NASCAR’ banner over Talladega
By JAMES BENNETT | The News-Journal | Published: June 24, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — The Sons of Confederate Veterans say they were responsible for the "Defund NASCAR" Confederate flag banner that flew over the Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.
The group, based in Columbia, Tenn., hired a small airplane to pass over the track before the race, which was postponed Sunday and completed Monday. NASCAR banned Confederate flags from its events last week at the request of driver Bubba Wallace, who is Black.
"NASCAR's banning the display of the Confederate battle flag by its fans is nothing less than trampling upon Southerners' First Amendment Right of free expression," Sons of Confederate Veterans Commander in Chief Paul C. Gramling Jr. said. "This un-American act shall not go unchallenged. [On Sunday], members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Confederate Air Force displayed its disapproval of NASCAR's trampling upon the First Amendment Rights of Southerners. During and before the start of the NASCAR race in Talladega, Alabama, race, our plane flew a banner announcing a drive to 'defund NASCAR.'
"It is the hope of the Sons of Confederate Veterans that NASCAR fans will be allowed the fundamental American right of displaying pride in their family and heritage. The Sons of Confederate Veterans is proud of the diversity of the Confederate military and our modern Southland. We believe NASCAR's slandering of our Southern heritage only further divides our nation. The Sons of Confederate Veterans will continue to defend not only our right but the Right of all Americans to celebrate their heritage. We trust NASCAR will do the same."
A banner, flying behind a plane over Talladega Superspeedway on June 21 ahead of the scheduled NASCAR Cup Series race, reads: "DEFUND NASCAR."
NASCAR did not acknowledge the plane or the banner. Executive vice president Steve O'Donnell tweeted a picture Sunday of Black and White hands shaking: "You won't see a photo of a jackass flying a flag over the track here ... but you will see this ... Hope EVERYONE enjoys the race today."
Signs prohibiting Confederate flags were posted outside entrances at Talladega Superspeedway before the GEICO 500. It was the second NASCAR race to allow spectators in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tickets were limited to 5,000 pre-selected fans.
Gramling said the flyover was paid for by the group's private donors. He said the decision harks back to 20 years ago, when the group flew over Chattanooga with protest messages when it had trouble hanging the flag in the city during conventions.
"What NASCAR did was a slap in the face to fans who made the sport what it is," Gramling said. "They don't know how upset they've made people with this decision. I really don't care what NASCAR thinks about what we did. It's the least of my concerns."
The group might fly the banner over more NASCAR venues this season. Gramling said supporters loved the idea and reacted with excitement after watching it on television.
"We've had quite a bit of reaction," Gramling said. "It's been very well received by everyone except NASCAR. This is the hottest, quickest thing we've done to raise awareness of flag issues and to get a strong reaction in quite a while."
The Sons of Confederate Veterans say on their website that they're "preserving the history and legacy of these heroes so that future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern cause" in the Civil War.
The national organization's headquarters is located inside Elm Springs, a two-story brick Greek Revival house built in 1837, just south of Columbia at 740 Mooresville Pike. The group has built a National Confederate Museum on the property. Its grand opening has been delayed by the coronavirus until fall.
Bennett writes for the Columbia Daily Herald.