DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Woody Strickland, setting up his camping area Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, proudly flies the Confederate flag. While he could have traded that flag for a U.S. flag when he checked into the infield earlier in the day, he declared, "It's not a fair trade."
Strickland said his great-great-great-grandfather died in the Civil War.
"I fly it for him and all the others that gave their lives," Strickland said by his campsite between turns 3 and 4 in the DIS infield.
The 52-year-old Floridian has come to the track since age 5 and can never remember not having a Confederate flag flying. He flies the flag at Talladega, Atlanta and Bristol and while tailgating at University of Florida football games. He has little interest in coming to the racetrack if he is told he can't fly the flag along with his U.S. flag, a Kevin Harvick flag, a Dale Earnhardt flag and other flags.
"They're going to lose a lot of money. ... I'll stay at home, and I'll watch it on my 75-inch TV," he said.
Daytona International Speedway, along with the rest of the tracks that host NASCAR national series races, issued a statement Thursday asking fans to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag at the racetracks.
"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," the statement said.
DIS had a box of U.S. flags ready to exchange for Confederate flags to anyone who asked while checking in Thursday for the race weekend. A track spokesman said that as of 3 p.m. -- seven hours after the check-in started -- no one had asked to exchange the flag.
Those checking in the campers did not ask if they wanted to exchange.
"It wouldn't have done any good," said Gerry Baker, who had a Confederate flag among the many above her camper. "We have the American flag. ... [The Confederate flag] is something we're proud of. There's not hatred whatsoever [in us]."
NASCAR chairman Brian France, whose family controls the track-operating International Speedway Corp. that includes Daytona among its tracks, has repeatedly said he wants to aggressively look at ways to eliminate the flag from the tracks. The comments came in light of the June 17 shooting in which nine African-Americans were killed at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Photos had emerged of suspect Dylann Roof with the Confederate flag, and a friend of the 21-year-old Caucasian told police Roof wanted to start a race war.
"It wasn't the flag that killed those people," said Baker, who estimates she has flown the flag for at least 25 years at DIS. "That idiot killed them."
Baker and Strickland did not have much company flying Confederate flags Thursday, the first day campers could enter the infield for the races Saturday and Sunday. It is expected there will be more flown by race time.
"There's a whole lot of people, and it's perfectly understandable that flag does not represent something offensive to them," France said on SiriusXM Radio's NASCAR channel Wednesday. "It's part of their Southern pride or whatever it may be.
"It's just that you have to recognize that may be how you feel, but an entire race of people, the African-American community, doesn't feel that way, and we've got to be sensitive to understand that as we go down the road being the most welcoming sport that we can possibly be."
Baker said that "the best friend I ever had was black," that others do things that offend her and that she will continue to fly the flag even if told not to.
"Why get thrown out because of a flag?" she said. "The flag didn't do any harm."
Strickland said the flag is what racing is about -- that NASCAR is a sport that has its roots in Dixie and moonshine. What if it offends people?
"If they don't like it, don't look at it," Strickland said.
"I don't care what other people's opinions [of me] are," he added. "Only God judges people, and that's at the end of your time."