Charles Ivey climbed to the top of his bus parked on the infield campground at Texas Motor Speedway and proudly hoisted the Confederate battle flag on Thursday afternoon.
He’d never flown the flag during a race weekend but felt compelled to do so for this weekend’s NASCAR tripleheader event at TMS, which concludes with Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
This is the first race weekend at the speedway since NASCAR and the track itself in July encouraged fans to leave Confederate flags at home after a racially charged church shooting in South Carolina that left nine worshippers dead.
But that request has fallen on deaf ears of some race fans who firmly believe it’s their right to fly the flag. Ivey and a handful of other race fans are flying the Confederate flag this weekend. The flags aren’t overly prevalent around the track, but it doesn’t take a long search to spot them around the infield.
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“I have the right to fly it just as much as they have a right to tell me not,” said Ivey, 52, of Greenville.
“It’s not a race thing at all. I’m not about that at all. But I am about First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, the Constitution. I believe the flag is about heritage. I had family that fought in the Civil War. I was born in the South, so it’s my right to fly it.
“You can fly whatever flag you want except that one? That one represents history. When did history become unpopular?”
The Confederate flag debate resurfaced in full this summer with the June 17 church shooting in Charleston. The suspect, Dylann Roof, had posed with a Confederate flag.
NASCAR, which has deep Southern roots, found itself in the midst of the controversy because many fans displayed the flags during races.
But the sanctioning body has made a conscious effort to diversify and broaden its fan base. NASCAR Chairman Brian France, along with popular drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, strongly discouraged fans from flying Confederate flags after the shooting.
The tracks followed suit, including TMS, by saying: “We join NASCAR in the desire to make our events among the most fan-friendly, welcoming environments in all of sports and entertainment.
“To do that, we are asking our fans and partners to join us in a renewed effort to create an all-inclusive, even more welcoming atmosphere for all who attend our events. This will include the request to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag at our facilities and NASCAR events.”
TMS President Eddie Gossage understands that the flag debate is a touchy subject on both sides and believes that the track might be seeing more flags this weekend simply based on NASCAR’s public stance.
“We’ve never had an issue with it the way you see it so prevalent at certain tracks,” Gossage said. “NASCAR’s public position has prompted more to show up. You know, whenever you tell somebody you can’t do something, they’re going to show you ‘Yes, I can.’
“But it’s never been a real issue here because it’s never been prevalent. It’s just one of those things. ... I will tell you that I’ve seen them when I’ve been tailgating at a Rangers game or a Cowboys game too. But because of the history of our sport, particularly in the deep South back in the day, I just think it’s more of a story.”
As Gossage alluded to, NASCAR’s strong stance against flying the flags has incited more fans to do so. Ivey went out of his way to make sure he brought a Confederate flag, along with koozies and beads emblazoned with Confederate flags, to the track this weekend.
NASCAR is trying to be politically correct which doesn’t fit NASCAR’s style really. … We’re going to fly it just because they tell us we can’t.
NASCAR fan Charles Ivey
“Well, NASCAR is trying to be politically correct which doesn’t fit NASCAR’s style really,” Ivey said. “I don’t know why they did that. But we talked about it and there is a group of guys that come out here and we all agreed that it’s our right to fly it. So we’re going to fly it just because they tell us we can’t.”
His wife, Cara, added: “It’s very disappointing [that NASCAR discourages it] because it’s Southern heritage and NASCAR is Southern. We have pride and we want to fly our flag just like the gay pride wants to fly their flag. We’re not griping when they’re flying theirs. … They need to leave us alone.”
The Iveys weren’t alone in their stance: A handful of other fans expressed similar beliefs.
This isn’t what NASCAR or the tracks want to see during race weekends, of course. Neither do civil-rights activists such as Rev. Kyev Tatum of Fort Worth.
“It’s not a First Amendment act. What it is is a direct affront to us coming together, a direct affront in an effort to try to make an unnecessary point,” said Tatum, president of the Fort Worth Southern Leadership Conference. “This is definitely hollow [by those fans]. NASCAR did the wise thing in the 21st century to discourage it. This is based on civility and humanity, and they’re [the fans] saying to hell with humanity, to hell with civility, my rights are more important.
“And that’s the attitude that has gotten us into this position in the first place.”
Tatum also disputed the notion by those fans who say the Confederate flag is more about heritage than anything else.
We want to preserve our slave heritage, but that doesn’t mean we want to live in that era
The Rev. Kyev Tatum
“Well, listen, we want to preserve our slave heritage,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean we want to live in that era. We don’t use it to antagonize.
“Anything that continues the antebellum of the Confederacy is not something that is inclusive of the culture.”
Those who are proudly flying the Confederate flag this weekend, though, simply disagree with that mindset.
Dwayne Ragsdell, 59, of Marshall, also felt compelled to fly a battle flag at his camping spot.
The whole thing over the Confederate flag is nothing but B.S.
NASCAR fan Dwayne Ragsdell
“The whole thing over the Confederate flag is nothing but B.S.,” Ragsdell said. “We’ve never flown a Confederate flag before, but it’s just the principle of the matter.”
His friend Greg Roden added: “Can I give my answer? Screw the president and screw the liberals. That’s my answer.”
For other Confederate flag-flying fans, it’s more than simply doing it in spite of institutions such as NASCAR and TMS.
Vietnam veteran David Halliburton, 68, of Haskell, has been flying a Confederate flag ever since the track opened in 1997. He says it represents his Southern heritage, and tried to drive that point home with a Confederate flag that has “Heritage Not Hate” stitched into it.
“It’s our heritage. I was born Texan. It’s part of the six flags over Texas,” Halliburton said. “To me, it’s the same as flying the Spanish flag or Mexican flag or French flag or whatever. It’s my right; it’s my belief.
“To me, it doesn’t represent anything against the blacks. I’m a veteran and I just feel it’s my God-given right being here in the United States.
“If I want to fly it, I can fly it.”