NASCAR chair Brian France wants 'insensitive symbol' eliminated at races

SONOMA, Calif. -- Calling the Confederate flag an "insensitive symbol" that he finds offensive, NASCAR chairman Brian France said the sport will be aggressive in disassociating it from its events.

"We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag," France said Saturday. "I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way.

"We're working with the industry to see how far we can go to get that flag to be disassociated entirely from our events."

Earlier this week, NASCAR said it backed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's call to remove the Confederate flag from state capitol grounds and noted that it bars the flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity.

But banning it on racetrack property is a much larger task for NASCAR, which began as a Southern sport. Many of its fans still embrace the flag. It flies atop campers and at camp sites at many races as fans spend entire weekends in either the infield or surrounding areas of track property.

The size of the crowd, and NASCAR's acknowledgment that fans have a right to freedom of expression, would make it difficult to police the presence of the flag.

But France insisted NASCAR is exploring its options.

"That's what we're working on -- working on how far can we go," he said. "If there's more we can do to disassociate ourselves with that flag at our events than we've already done, then we want to do it. We are going to be as aggressive as we can to disassociate ourselves with that flag."

The flag issue was heightened last week after nine black churchgoers were slain in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect in the case, Dylann Roof, embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, posing with the rebel battle flag. That revelation prompted a reappraisal of the role such symbols play in the South.

In 2012, NASCAR banned pro golfer Bubba Watson's plan to drive the General Lee, the car from the television series "The Dukes of Hazzard," at Phoenix International Raceway over concerns about a negative reaction to an image of the Confederate flag on its roof.

France said the Charleston church shooting has pushed the sport to find a way to take a tougher stance.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, two of NASCAR's biggest stars, on Friday backed NASCAR's efforts.

"It is offensive to an entire race," said Earnhardt, voted as the sport's most popular driver 12 times in the Sprint Cup Series. "It really does nothing for anybody to be there flying. It belongs in the history books, and that's about it."

Added Gordon: "It's a delicate balance. We race all over, but the South is an area where we have a lot of fans. Everyone has different opinions and expression of that."

Brad Daugherty, the lone black Sprint Cup Series team owner in NASCAR, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week that seeing the Confederate flag at races "does make my skin crawl." On Saturday, JTG Daugherty Racing won the first pole in team history when AJ Allmendinger qualified first for Sunday's race at Sonoma Raceway.

"Obviously, we have our roots in the South, there are events in the South, it's part of our history like it is for the country," France said. "But it needs to be just that, part of our history. It isn't part of our future.

"We want everybody in this country to be a NASCAR fan, and you can't do that by being insensitive in any one area."

ESPN's Bob Pockrass and The Associated Press contributed to this report.