Summit County councilor wants action after demolition derby cars display what he deems white nationalist symbols
The presence of a car emblazoned with a Confederate flag and another featuring what County Councilor Glenn Wright called an Iron Cross — a symbol used by the Nazis as a war medal — at Saturday’s demolition derby in Coalville prompted him to question whether Summit County should continue to support the event, one of the premier draws of the annual county fair.
“Can’t be promoting white nationalism at the county fair,” Wright said during Wednesday’s County Council meeting. “Without (a policy in place), I’d go so far as to say canceling the demolition derby.”
He suggested enacting a policy to govern what can and cannot be painted on the cars.
One of the cars in question was painted tan and sported a Confederate flag on the passenger door and an American flag on the driver’s side. The other was gray with the number 88 painted on the driver’s door and a black cross outlined in white painted on the driver’s side rear door.
Both the number and the cross can be construed as white nationalist symbols.
The number 88, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, can mean “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. But it is also the number used by popular NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., a connection that might have been more evident to fans attending the motorsports spectacle.
The Iron Cross is generally pictured as a black cross with a silver outline. The lines appear curved, with the ends wider than the intersection at the middle. It is also generally symmetrical, with each leg the same length, rather than the traditional Christian orientation of a cross, with the horizontal line intersecting the vertical portion about two-thirds of the way up.
Starting in the 1930s, the Nazis overlaid the Iron Cross with a swastika and used it as a military medal, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The Anti-Defamation League notes the symbol was picked up by American outlaw biker groups and in skateboarding culture, and has proliferated around the country, often in non-racist contexts.
The cross on the gray vehicle is outlined in white and the lines appear to be straight. It also bears resemblance to the bar cross, which was an emblem of the German military during World War II.
Wright said his wife and a friend initially noticed the vehicle with the Confederate flag while attending the derby, and a constituent pointed out the markings on the gray car to another County Councilor.
County Council Chair Roger Armstrong did not see the cars in question but said that, while Wright wasn’t speaking for the Council, the issues he raised have particular importance for a family-friendly event like the county fair.
“I think we’re all concerned about any kind of hate messaging in the county,” Armstrong said. “I think we have to be careful that the county is not affiliated with any kind of messaging that doesn’t reflect our values.”
The Park Record was unable to contact the driver of either vehicle.
Wright said the timing of the display gave it particular meaning, as the derby was held the same day as the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. That shooting left 22 people dead and the FBI is investigating it as a possible domestic terrorism hate crime. The alleged shooter has been linked to white nationalism.
“It’s just ironic that symbology came into Summit County the night of (the El Paso shooting),” Wright said.
He advocated establishing a policy regulating what can be painted on the cars, though he acknowledged the potential First Amendment issues. He suggested working with the vendor Summit County pays to put on the derby.
Summit County Chief Civil Deputy Attorney David Thomas agreed that there would be free speech issues, but that there are other areas the county navigates such conflicts.
One driver who competed in the derby, Logan Walsh, said his vehicles’ designs often have personal importance.
This year, Walsh’s car had a suicide prevention theme, with a teal and purple intersecting ribbon on top of angel wings on the roof, “U R NOT ALONE” painted on the trunk, and the names of friends he’s lost to suicide painted on the side, alongside the number for the suicide-prevention hotline.
In the past, he said he’s painted his car like a battleship, with the names of friends who were in the service displayed on the side.
He said he could see both sides of the issue surrounding the symbols. But he added he didn’t know how enforcing a policy banning certain displays would work and wondered whether he’d be prevented from competing if someone ruled his design wasn’t allowable.
Walsh said he didn’t see it as an “East Side versus Park City” debate.
He didn’t notice the markings on the vehicles in question, but he said the Confederate flag isn’t an unusual sighting at derbies — one or two vehicles displaying the flag might show up to compete each year. He noted the sense of community among drivers, even though it might look like two drivers are trying to destroy each other in the arena.
Other designs in this year’s derby included the American flag, a U.S. Army symbol, a geometric pattern of multi-colored triangles and one vehicle with a Baby Shark theme, complete with a dorsal fin up top.
The derby has seen a revival since low times in the early 2010s. It now sells out annually, with tickets going on sale in May and selling out by June, derby promoter Mindi Stuart previously told The Park Record. This year, 75 percent of available tickets were sold the first day, she added.
Stuart did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this article.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said the derby provides significant revenue to the fair, and it has long been a staple of the annual celebration and a fan favorite.
He said the county has ample time before next year’s event to consider putting a policy regarding vehicle displays in place, and the first step is to get advice from the legal department. He said it was the first time he’d heard a complaint of this kind.
“Since this is a new issue for us, we are going to be thoughtful,” Fisher said.
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The planning committee and the newly formed task forces will continue to work on the master planning priorities and will present to the Board of Education at its meeting Dec. 17.