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No excuse for racist act directed at Wallace

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 23, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Is it too much to ask to treat other human beings with respect?

For someone to put a noose in Bubba Wallace's garage stall Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway is ridiculous, disgusting and criminal. There is no excuse for it.

While the racing has been good, at times excellent, since NASCAR has come back from the coronavirus shutdown, the racism that’s been displayed is sickening.

Plenty of people have gotten worked up about the recent ban of the Confederate flag and Wallace driving a Black Lives Matter No. 43 car at Martinsville. Unfortunately, we’re at a time in history when there is little listening to or empathy for others.

I’m old enough to remember Southern rock bands and even country bands like Alabama using the rebel flag on album covers and other memorabilia. For many, it was looked at as a source of Southern pride displayed on the top of the “General Lee” Dodge Charger in the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show.

There was a time when the sport celebrated the flag, particularly the spring race at Darlington known decades ago as the Rebel 500.

But that symbol is viewed differently by people of color, a reminder of a time when they were considered less than human beings. And there is the well-traveled story of the late Dale Earnhardt removing the symbol from his personal truck once he found out it was offensive to a lady working for him.

NASCAR has tried growing the sport to minorities and in urban areas with a limited degree of success. The Drive for Diversity program was implemented in 2004 and Wallace is one of the program’s graduates, along with Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez, currently in the Cup Series.

Another D4D graduate, Kyle Larson, was in the program before being suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and fired by his team for using a racial slur during an iRacing event. It is expected that NASCAR will reinstate Larson, who is half-Japanese, at some point. I certainly believe in second chances and honestly don’t think Larson is a racist.

Whoever is responsible for the noose, however, doesn’t deserve a second chance in the sport and should be banned for good.

Also Sunday, a plane flew over the track with the Confederate flag and the message, “Defund NASCAR.” It’s mind-blowing to think someone would spend money on something so stupid.

The lies being spread on social media don’t help.

A few days after the Confederate flag ban, I saw multiple friends share a Facebook post about how NASCAR has done away with the national anthem and the pre-race prayer. In the often-used words of President Donald Trump, that is fake news.

NASCAR no longer requires those to stand for the national anthem and that is a person’s right. Personally, I will continue to stand for the anthem and even through trying times, I still believe the United States is the greatest nation on Earth.

However, issues being addressed are uncomfortable. Many argue sports and entertainment should be kept separate from politics.

People have a short memory and many of those who have recently criticized NASCAR’s decisions celebrated President Trump’s visit to the season-opening Daytona 500.

I’ve heard the argument that it’s OK for some to use racist terms in rap music. My deal is I don’t follow rap music. I’m not a fan of rap music and don’t support it by purchasing CDs. People have the freedom to do the same with NASCAR or any other sport or form of entertainment.

It’s also ridiculous how some fans have discredited Wallace’s driving ability.

Wallace entered Monday’s rescheduled Talladega race ranked 20th in the Cup Series points. To those who have compared his performance to that of Danica Patrick, it’s nowhere close. Wallace has figuratively lapped her while driving for a mid-level team with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Wallace has a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 and a third-place finish at Indianapolis. Sure, Daytona is a restrictor-plate race where it’s not that unusual to see someone break through with a good finish. The Indianapolis result was a true testament to Wallace and the team’s overall performance.

In addition, he has been a consistent top-15 driver at Martinsville, a short track where one of the sport’s greats and my all-time favorite driver, Bobby Allison, never won a race.

Outside of Cup, Wallace won the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol and a truck series race at Michigan, where he outdueled Kyle Busch for the victory.

Will Wallace ever be a winner on the level of Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin or even Chase Elliott? I seriously doubt it. But he is a solid driver. Regardless of his record, he deserves to be treated with respect as does every person no matter the race.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask of any of us.

Contact Jeff Birchfield via email at jbirchfield@johnsoncitypress.com.

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