Full disclosure: A couple of months ago I enjoyed a late-night TV cheese-fest starring “The A-Team” followed by “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and shared said fun with my Facebook friends. Boss Hogg was telling Roscoe P. Coltrane that he was too stupid to tell grits from shoe polish.
The positive ensuing responses included everyone from North Carolina redneck libertarians to New York gay liberals.
Any other show that featured a car brandishing a Confederate flag on the top would be much more polarizing. But that show, its Southern roots notwithstanding, stayed out of the gray of politics and focused on good and evil.
Bad guys went to jail. Good guys were avenged. Everybody was judged solely on their merits — from Uncle Jesse’s black dentist who worked out of his motor home, to Daisy Duke and her fellow Miss Tri-Counties contestants being judged on their ability to look good in bikinis and rebuild engine parts.
The message of the show so overpowered the normal meaning of the rebel flag that said flag, in that sole context, ceased to be offensive. I would never fly a Confederate flag at my house, but if I go to a car show a General Lee replica is one of my first stops. The General Lee, because of its message of good, gets a pass.
Except at a NASCAR track.
Last week, NASCAR nixed a gimmick in which PGA pro Bubba Watson would drive around Phoenix International Raceway in a General Lee he bought for $110,000 at a car auction. Ben Jones, who played mechanic Cooter on “The Dukes of Hazzard” and later served as a Georgia congressman, blasted the decision. In a statement, he said the decision “…is prejudicial toward those good-hearted folks who, like Uncle Jesse Duke, are in fact ‘never meanin’ no harm.’”
Unfortunately, Congressman, you forgot one thing. NASCAR has a history that includes not showing the kind of hospitality Hazzard folks did.
Do we need to bring up NASCAR’s Jackie Robinson, Wendell Scott, being denied entry into Darlington Raceway’s Southern 500 for years in the 1960s? How about the 1999 incident where a black crewman was harassed by white motorcoach drivers who put pillowcases over their heads to resemble members of the Ku Klux Klan?
Think I’m dredging up old news unfairly? Why don’t we go all the way back to, um, 2008, when former Nationwide official Mauricia Grant, a black female, filed a $225 million lawsuit against NASCAR, claiming a racially hostile working environment followed by a wrongful termination after working there from 2005-07. NASCAR quickly settled her lawsuit, and a total of three people named in her suit were fired.
Maybe in 20 or 25 years, when all of this behavior has finally subsided — and when the sport is finally properly integrated — the General Lee will be able to go to a NASCAR track, and we’ll be be able to enjoy the car on its merits.
But not now. Finally, on this subject, NASCAR is making the right decisions.
Follow Josh Stewart on Twitter @JoshNASCARWWE