With one post, Ray Ciccarelli went from a relatively unknown to arguably the most hated driver in NASCAR. (Kyle Busch probably still holds that title.)
And regardless of whether that outcome was deserved, it nevertheless is one that would be difficult for any person to deal with.
Ciccarelli, a veteran part-time driver in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, made headlines last week when he threatened to quit NASCAR after the 2020 season over its Confederate flag ban. The 50-year-old also seemingly took issue with Darrell Wallace Jr.’s decision to use the pre-race playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as an opportunity to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
In a recent interview with NASCAR reporter Toby Christie, Ciccarelli somewhat walked backed on his comments while also offering context on why he made them in the first place. He also discussed the impact the controversy has had on his family.
“I regret how it was misconstrued,” Ciccarelli told Christie. “I don’t regret my feelings of believing in the national anthem and standing. I don’t like the fact that I was misconstrued about defending the Confederate flag. Because in no way shape or form was I defending the Confederate flag.
“Everything I was saying was the fact that I understand both sides’ feelings toward the flag. My viewpoint, all I was trying to say is how do you take (the flag) from one group and help support the group that it offends and then what do you do to the group that you took it from? Now, they get outraged.”
In 2017, when the biggest story in sports was athletes protesting during the anthem, some NASCAR owners threatened to fire employees if they engaged in similar protests. NASCAR issued a lukewarm statement on the issue, kinda-sorta straddling the line but really placating to the patriotic individuals who make up much of its fan base. The sport has undergone a significant tone shift since the death of George Floyd, including promoting the words and demonstrations of Wallace, who hasn’t knelt during the anthem but has been visible and vocal in calling for racial equality.
Ciccarelli claimed his main gripe with kneeling during the anthem isn’t the demonstration itself, but rather NASCAR’s apparent inconsistency on the matter.
“I guess I was just sitting there. I had seen the news thing come through referring to, NASCAR now allows you to kneel during the anthem, It just irritated me some,” Ciccarelli said. “I believe in standing for the national anthem, and I believe that if you want to kneel during the anthem , you should kneel. It just kind of triggered me, because we’re being told you can’t kneel, now you can kneel. It just set me off.
“We’re told one thing that we can’t do, then you’re told you can do. Just to go back, about two years during the (Colin) Kaepernick deal, NASCAR did release a statement stating that team owners should take action to any teammates that decide to kneel during the national anthem. It was not going to be condoned what-so-ever.”
The backlash has trickled down to members of Ciccarelli’s family, something that was predictable but not justified.
“I wasn’t raised the way people are portraying me to be. That’s just not me,” Ciccarelli told Christie. “I am not that type of person. Just the attack — my wife, my family have been attacked and abused on social media. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Where Ciccarelli truly stands on these issues remains up for debate. It’s difficult to look past the words in his now-infamous post, but he does seem genuinely remorseful, regretful, and his explanation, while somewhat disjointed, comes across as believable. Or, you know, perhaps he was just doing some damage control.
At the very least, he is guilty of not thinking before posting — something many people can relate to.
“This was a very educational learning experience,” he told Christie.
As for his threat of quitting NASCAR, Ciccarelli didn’t say whether he would follow through. He is winless in 32 career NASCAR-sanctioned races.