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Fearing Confederate flag backlash, NASCAR nixes PGA pro Watson's appearance with 'General Lee'
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) ' NASCAR and track officials canceled plans to have pro golfer Bubba Watson drive the car from the television series "The Dukes of Hazzard" at Phoenix International Raceway because of concerns about a negative reaction to an image of the Confederate flag.
Watson was scheduled to drive the 1969 Dodge Charger, known as the "General Lee," on a parade lap before the March 4 Sprint Cup series race at Phoenix. The car has a large Confederate flag on its roof, just as it did when it appeared on the show.
"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," NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said in a statement Friday.
Higdon said it was a joint decision by officials with NASCAR, the racetrack, and track ownership group International Speedway Corp.
While the flag may not be welcome in an official capacity in NASCAR, it often can be seen flying from fans' vehicles in racetrack infields.
Reached Friday at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, Watson said the car only has the flag on it because that's the way it looked on the show.
"Obviously, I don't stand for the Confederate flag," Watson said. "The Confederate flag was not used (in the show) for what people see it as today, so that's sad. But NASCAR was built on moonshining, so the show was built on moonshining. I thought it was fun. I didn't buy the car to get publicity; I bought it because I love it."
Watson recently bought the car at an auction for $110,000.
The photo on Watson's Twitter account shows him standing next to the car, and he drove it to the Phoenix Open earlier this month.
"Two days ago, they called my manager and said we can't do it, that NASCAR pulled the plug on it," Watson said. "They said the reason was the Confederate flag on top. I understand if I was using it in that form. But I bought because it's (number) 01, from the TV show, and who doesn't want a car that's been jumped (in a TV stunt)? The TV show was about moonshining, driving in the backwoods in those days."
Watson said he still will attend the Phoenix race, and still plans to let NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin caddy for him in the Par 3 tournament at the Masters.
"Me and Denny have been friends for a couple of years," Watson said. "I'll still go to the race, even though I can't drive around the race track."
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report from Los Angeles.