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NASCAR Top Circuit Driver Comments On Company's Decision To Ban Confederate Flag

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday's NASCAR race was already going to be different.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Five-hundred laps at Martinsville - green flag.

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KELLY: There were no fans watching the race near Martinsville, Va. There were also no Confederate flags. This week, NASCAR banned them from all events. Bubba Wallace had called for that. He is currently the only black driver racing on NASCAR's top circuit. He finished 11th on Wednesday, by the way, and he joins us now via Skype.

Bubba Wallace, welcome.

BUBBA WALLACE: How are we doing?

KELLY: We're doing great. How are you?

WALLACE: Oh, I can't complain. A little bit busy, but all part of it.

KELLY: So I wonder if you ever thought you'd see the day. NASCAR's been talking about doing this, about banning the Confederate flag, for years.

WALLACE: Yeah. No, it's been a long time coming, for sure. And I know a lot of people are satisfied with the direction and the choices that NASCAR make to change the image and move forward the message that we're trying to push across these days and to create, you know, unity, equality. And the words that stood out on my race cars Wednesday night were love, compassion and understanding. So it's a small step for us, but it moves in big factors to get a new fan base out to the racetrack.

KELLY: Talk to me about how you decided to speak up. It was Monday this week that you called for a ban on the Confederate flag.

WALLACE: Yeah, yeah. I was on CNN with Don Lemon there. And it's just so many articles that I read, or so many, you know, tweets or whatever, Instagram posts, that people had been to race before, but they were just bothered by the flag. And I was like, well, let's just get it out of there, you know? NASCAR has control of that. They own the property, and we can police it. So we will have to do that once fans are allowed back in the racetracks and the premises, we will have to come up with a way to solidify that message that it's not allowed.

KELLY: Was there something that for you was the tipping point in these recent weeks?

WALLACE: Yeah, the Ahmaud Arbery death obviously has shaken the world, but it shook me to the core, to a point where it kind of flipped a light switch inside of me and wanted me to speak up.

KELLY: And I wonder if you speak about this with fellow drivers. Is this a topic of conversation?

WALLACE: We've been vocal. There's a group of us. Jimmie Johnson, we were actually on the phone yesterday just kind of catching up, and we've been very vocal with each other. Ty Dillon and I kind of sparked a conversation. We did Instagram Lives last Monday, actually, and really got kind of the ball rolling. He's been a huge leader in this. So there's been quite a few drivers who kind of step up and be vocal about the matter, so it's been cool to see.

KELLY: Have you heard any backlash from fans?

WALLACE: (Laughter) Don't you hear backlash every day?

KELLY: Yeah (laughter).

WALLACE: Exactly. It's the world we live in, so - it doesn't matter if I said the sky was red, you're going get backlash - or the sky is blue, whatever, you're going to get backlash. So of course.

KELLY: I introduced you as the only black driver racing on NASCAR's top circuit, which should not be the case in 2020. What else do you think needs to be done to open up your sport, both the drivers and fans, to people of color?

WALLACE: Yes, that's tough. I think we will have further discussions on that and see how it goes. This may open the doors for new people to want to be a part of our sport now, seeing how big of a change that we are doing with removing the flag and trying to become more diverse, in which NASCAR has been - that's been one of their initiatives for a really long time now. And this is a monumental step for us, so we will learn and figure out ways to build off this to get a more diverse background on the racetrack and a part of pit crews - even more there. We have a lot of guys from different backgrounds in pit crews, and even in the front offices of NASCAR and race teams.

KELLY: That is NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. He joined us via Skype.

It was great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

WALLACE: Absolutely - appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.