FAIRMONT, Minn. – Days after an Iowa racetrack fired him for a racist rant, track announcer Lon Oelke was back behind the microphone at his longtime regular gig, calling the Friday night auto racing card at Fairmont Raceway in this southern Minnesota city.
And he's not going anywhere, according to the track promoter, who's standing by Oelke amid the controversy over his Iowa remarks.
"I think perhaps the whole thing is taken a little out of context with social media these days," said Fairmont track promoter Jon McCorkell, adding that he'll "stick by my guy."
In a livestreamed broadcast earlier this month from the Kossuth County Speedway in Algona, Iowa, Oelke criticized sports fans who won't stand for the national anthem and directed disparaging comments at "those folks, I guess the darker-toned skin color."
Before the national anthem was played in Algona, Oelke said he wanted to make a "public service announcement," then condemned those who "won't stand for our flag" or who "take a knee" during the anthem.
"I've got four words for you: Find a different country if you won't do it," he said. "Get the hell out of Dodge."
Cheers in the crowd could be heard at that point on the video, which has been removed from its host site. Oelke added he was outraged that the NFL is considering playing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" — often called the Black national anthem — before games this season "for those folks, I guess the darker-toned skin color, I'll just say, Blacks.
"They want a different national anthem and the NFL is thinking about doing it," he said. "I just say shut the TVs off and let them play in front of nobody."
The Algona racetrack cut ties with Oelke, saying it does not condone his comments.
The Fairmont Raceway, a half-mile dirt track, is on the grounds of the Martin County Fair in this city about 130 miles southwest of the Twin Cities. Robin Celander, president of the fair's governing board, said Monday that the fair organization would have no comment on Oelke until the board has a chance to meet and discuss the situation.
Oelke wasn't available for comment. McCorkell, who has promoted races at the track for three years, said on Friday night that he would speak for himself and Oelke.
"I'm of the opinion that you should stand for the national anthem," he said. "Lon took it a step further."
McCorkell had defended Oelke on the raceway's Facebook page. In a post that has since been removed, McCorkell promised that Oelke would receive a standing ovation at Friday's races.
But there was no ovation Friday, nor any announcement to the crowd that it should provide one. McCorkell said Oelke hadn't been comfortable with the plan, adding that Oelke has strong support in the area.
"Anybody local is basically of the same belief we are," McCorkell said. "We are one nation under God, one national anthem, and you stand for it."
Doug Peterson, a local farmer who serves as racetrack chaplain, said he'd spoken with Oelke about the Iowa incident, and Oelke had expressed remorse.
"He's genuinely sorry," Peterson said. "I do know Lon personally and I do believe he has love in his heart, not hatred. Lonnie is not a hater."
Peterson said he's grieved over the divisions in the country and believes people need to show mercy and compassion toward one another.
"As a chaplain, I really believe this is a time that we have an opportunity to show the kind of love that as a Christian nation, we need to have," he said. "You say words and you can't pull them back.
"From my perspective, we need to show grace and have mercy. If we all would treat each other as Jesus taught us, it would go a long way."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
John Reinan • 612-673-7402