SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Dozens of NASCAR drivers escorted the car of Bubba Wallace before today's race at Talladega in Alabama. They pushed his car into place as he sat in the driver's seat with an American flag mask on his face. Wallace is the only black driver in NASCAR's top circuit. And on Sunday, a noose was found in his garage. Wallace had been the driving force behind the effort to ban the Confederate battle flag at races, a policy NASCAR adopted earlier this month. At the track today was reporter Mary Scott Hodgin from member station WBHM in Birmingham, Ala., and she joins us now.
MARY SCOTT HODGIN, BYLINE: Hey.
MCCAMMON: Mary Scott, this is one of the first races since NASCAR banned the Confederate flag. But yesterday, people were flying the flag outside the gates. What was it like today?
SCOTT HODGIN: So across the street from the speedway today, there were some regular vendors selling souvenirs, including Confederate flags. So I stopped by one of those stands, and it was pretty slow because it's Monday. But one fan who stopped by was Brad Johnson (ph) who's been coming to NASCAR races for years. And he said he doesn't support the decision to ban the flag.
BRAD JOHNSON: I think when you start banning things like that, it's kind of a slippery slope taking away people's freedom of expression.
SCOTT HODGIN: And, you know, I asked Johnson about people who view the flag as a symbol of racism and white supremacy - you know, how does he respond to that? And he said, for him, the flag's about heritage and southern rebellion. It's not about slavery.
MCCAMMON: What else did you hear from the fans there?
SCOTT HODGIN: Well, we should remind people that, you know, because of the coronavirus, only about 5,000 fans were permitted to watch the race, which is far fewer than the typical 100,000 that might attend a race here in Talladega. I did talk with one group of younger fans inside the gates. Jeremy Jones (ph) and Michael Donahue (ph) were attending the race together. Jones, who's black, says he feels that the organization is taking a strong stance on the Confederate flag issue.
JEREMY JONES: I was honestly surprised, like, NASCAR, like, coming out like that. Like, I feel like that would be one of the last sports to be, like, with the cause basically. So, yeah, that's, like, pretty exciting, pretty - got me more ramped up to come back out here again.
MICHAEL DONAHUE: I thought that was really brave. And to step behind, you know, the only African American driver in NASCAR and to really get behind and support a driver like that and to show that it's more open to being open and inclusive, I think it's definitely a step in the right direction.
MCCAMMON: And Mary Scott, what are NASCAR officials saying about the noose that was found yesterday?
SCOTT HODGIN: Well, earlier today, NASCAR president Steve Phelps held a call with reporters about the incident. He said NASCAR alerted the FBI, and its agents are looking into what happened with the noose in Bubba Wallace's garage. Phelps said when they find the person or the people who did this, they'll be banned from NASCAR for life. And he said they've increased security for Bubba Wallace and that it's a difficult time for their sport. But, you know, as we mentioned in the beginning, drivers and other pit crew members escorted Bubba to the head of pit lane before the race today. And it was really an emotional moment. And, you know, even on the infield grass, someone had painted in big white letters #IStandWithBubba.
MCCAMMON: That's Mary Scott Hodgin of member station WBHM.
Thanks for joining us.
SCOTT HODGIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.