Maryland native, NASCAR driver to quit racing over kneeling, Confederate flag decisions

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Ray Ciccarelli

Maryland native and NASCAR Truck Series driver and owner Ray Ciccarelli said Wednesday that he will be quitting NASCAR in response to the circuit’s decisions to allow kneeling during the national anthem and to ban the Confederate flag from its events.

Ciccarelli, a 1989 Mt. Hebron graduate from Ellicott City, made the announcement on his personal Facebook page Wednesday afternoon, stating he would quit at the end of the 2020 season because he doesn’t “believe in kneeling” and that people have the “right to fly whatever flag they love.”

“I don’t believe in the direction NASCAR is going," he said in a Thursday interview. "I have family and friends who defend this country every day. I don’t believe in kneeling.”

NASCAR’s changes come as protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have put issues like racism and police brutality in the national spotlight.

Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass reported Wednesday that NASCAR had removed its guidelines that forced team members to stand for the national anthem.

“The people kneeling have the right to kneel, and NASCAR has a right to allow them to kneel,” Ciccarelli said. “But I also have the right to not spend my own money to participate in a sport that’s now getting involved in politics."

A few hours later, NASCAR announced that the display of the Confederate flag would be “prohibited” from all events, formally severing itself from what for many is a symbol of slavery and racism.

“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR’s announcement read. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special.”

Officials from NASCAR and the Truck series couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday morning.

Ciccarelli said he disagrees with NASCAR’s decision to ban Confederate flags from its events. Ciccarelli claims it hinders the rights of people who want to fly the flag.

“Hell, I ain’t never owned a Confederate flag, nor do I care about the Confederate flag. But there are people out there who do,” he said. “That should be their right. The only flag that means anything to me is the American flag, but that doesn’t mean other people don’t love other flags like the Confederate flag and that doesn’t make them racist. … Everything is racial today. If you don’t agree with what everyone else agrees on, then you’re automatically a racist.”

The declaration on Ciccarelli’s Facebook page, which included some profanity, made national headlines Wednesday night. Ciccarelli later deactivated his Facebook account as well as the Twitter and Facebook accounts for CMI Motorsports — the stock car racing team he owns.

“Well its been a fun ride and dream come true but if this is the direction Nascar is headed we will not participate after Nascar is headed we will not participate after 2020 season is over,” Ciccarelli wrote in the Facebook post that is now deleted. “I don’t believe in kneeling during Anthem nor taken ppl right to fly what ever flag they love. I could care less about the Confederate Flag but there are ppl that do and it doesn’t make them a racist all you are doing is f------ one group to cater to another and i ain’t spend the money we are to participate in any political BS!! So everything is for SALE!!”

Ciccarelli said he was “dumbfounded” by the quick reaction to his post Wednesday night.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “That’s my personal page. I posted it for my friends and my fans. I didn’t think it would get that sort of reaction."

With 32 races under his belt, the 50-year-old driver has never won a NASCAR race and has only one top-10 placement with an average finish of 24.8 in his career. His first NASCAR appearance was in the Busch East Series in 2006. After seven years off, Ciccarelli then spent four years on the ARCA Racing Series circuit and the last four seasons driving the No. 49 truck in the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series. He has yet to race in 2020.

Two days before the announcement, Bubba Wallace — the sport’s lone black driver — told CNN’s Don Lemon there is “no place” for Confederate flags at NASCAR races.

"There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family that feels some type of way about something they have seen, an object they have seen flying," Wallace told CNN Monday. "No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here.”