Former Georgia congressman Ben Jones, who starred as ace mechanic "Cooter" Davenport on the hit television series "The Dukes of Hazzard", issued a statement on Friday criticizing NASCAR for its decision to prevent the use of the popular "General Lee" 1969 Dodge Charger at the Phoenix Sprint Cup race in March.
"At a time when tens of millions of Americans are honoring their Union and Confederate ancestors during this Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, NASCAR has chosen to dishonor those Southerners who fought and died in that terrible conflict by caving to 'political correctness' and the uninformed concerns of corporate sponsors," Jones said in a release.
"This is also an extraordinary insult to rural Southerners, who are NASCAR's oldest and most fervent fan base, and it sends a message against inclusion and against the need for diversity. Many of us who are descended from ancestors who fought for the South see this as a crude dishonoring of our kinfolks and our heritage. Our ancestors were proud Americans who had fought for our Nation before the Civil War and have served honorably in every conflict since then.
"The Confederate Battle Flag is on display at many National Battlefields and is displayed by countless historical and heritage groups who are descendants of those who fought in that crucible of the American experience. 'The Dukes of Hazzard' remains a beloved classic television show which is watched by Americans of all races and regions and is watched internationally as an upbeat reflection of the American Spirit. It is also watched by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world.
"While it is true that the Confederate Battle Flag has been used by extremist groups like the KKK, these groups also display the American Flag and the Christian cross in their rituals. However, the vast majority of the display of the St. Andrews Cross Flag is in a benign spirit of remembrance and reverence. I am a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, a Life Member of the NAACP, and a proud member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
"As a cast member of 'The Dukes of Hazzard' and the owner of several 'General Lees', I can attest that the car and our show reflect the very best of American values, and that Hazzard County was a place where racism was not tolerated. This action by NASCAR.
02/18/12 Concerned over the negative image of the Confederate flag, NASCAR told PGA star Bubba Watson he cannot drive his "General Lee'' show car around Phoenix International Raceway before the March 4 Sprint Cup race. Watson, an honorary race official for the event, was originally told he could appear in the #01 car from the "Dukes of Hazzard'' television series, which he purchased for $110,000 at an auction. NASCAR officials vetoed that because there is a Confederate flag on the roof of the bright orange Dodge Charger made famous in the series, which aired from 1979-85, and the sport is trying to distance itself from the negative image that brings.
"NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and Phoenix International Raceway officials discussed this and decided it was not in the best interest of our sport,'' NASCAR said in a statement on Friday.
"The image of the Confederate flag is not something that should play an official role in our sport as we continue to reach out to new fans and make NASCAR more inclusive." Watson, who recently drove the car to the Phoenix Open golf tournament, wrote Thursday on Twitter: "Sorry to say @nascar won't let me drive The General Lee at the @PhoenixRaceway !!! #dreamcrushed." The Confederate flag still is flown by fans at many racetracks, particularly in the South. But NASCAR has made it clear over the years that it doesn't want to be associated with that image. ESPN
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