DARLINGTON, S.C. -- In NASCAR's traditional Dixie stronghold, some things never change.
Take Darlington Raceway, where some fans don't seem at all concerned about being politically correct. In every corner of the infield, on T-shirts and hats and at concessions stands, there are flags and symbols of the Confederacy.
''It's a Southern thing, just like NASCAR,'' said Terry McCutcheon, a contractor from Columbia whose van sported two Confederate flags -- one with the pledge, ''I ain't coming down.''
The flag is an especially touchy subject in South Carolina. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has endorsed an economic boycott of the state until the Legislature removes the flag from the Statehouse dome.
But asking some race fans to take down the flag is like requesting that they stop cheering for Dale Earnhardt or against Jeff Gordon.
''It simply shows their leaning,'' said Bob Latford, the sport's historian who has come to Darlington races for 51 years. ''They are Southern by birth, and it's not intended to be anything other than 'I'm proud to be from the South.'''
Last Sunday's Mall.com 400, sponsored for the first time by an Internet shopping site, has come far since it was the Rebel 300 in 1957. The race was run for years on what Latford calls ''Confederate Memorial Day,'' complete with a Johnny Reb mascot and flag symbols on track signs and business cards.
The early racers and the sport had that rebellious nature, with a little bit of sassy, stick-it-to-the-Yankees attitude, Latford said.
Can the NAACP expect to make headway at the racetrack?
''I think it would really be remiss to say, 'They wouldn't be interested, so let's not bother with them,''' said James Gallman, president of the NAACP chapter in South Carolina. ''If we expand to that area, we'll contact them as well.''
The issue, which has touched sports in South Carolina from last month's Olympic women's marathon trials in Columbia to the recently concluded Southern Conference basketball tournament, has whipped up emotions in a younger generation.
''I've been coming to races for a while and will sometimes show a Confederate flag,'' said 26-year-old Todd Daniel of Goose Creek, who carried a mini flag in his camouflage jacket breast pocket. ''But I wanted to especially show one this time.''
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