NASCAR has released a picture of the noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage at Talladega last weekend, and the series’ president Steve Phelps said it was offensive that anyone would accuse Wallace of placing the offending item there himself amid wild conspiracy theories.
On Sunday at Talladega, a noose was found in the garage of Richard Petty Motorsports driver Wallace, and NASCAR began an immediate investigation, which later included the FBI.
It also led to a show of unity from NASCAR, with the rest of the field pushing Wallace’s car to the front of the queue before the race and standing behind his car.
The FBI concluded on Tuesday that a hate crime had not been committed against Wallace, once it became clear that the noose had been attached as a garage door pull since at least last October’s race at the track, and as the garages are assigned at random, it couldn’t have been left there to antagonise Wallace. No charges were made.
Wallace has been campaigning rigorously for racial equality since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and amid the worldwide social movement that has ensued over the past month.
As part of that campaigning, Wallace called for the banning of the Confederate Flag – a symbol tied to slavery in the 19th century – from NASCAR tracks. The series backed him and banned the flag from the next race onwards, which drew both praise and criticism from its fan base.
Some fans brought the Confederate Flag to the track over the weekend, and it was seen on a banner flown over the circuit with the message “Defund NASCAR”.
NASCAR has now concluded its own investigation into the noose incident and says that it was too difficult to ascertain who was responsible for tying the noose.
Members of NASCAR’s community will have to go through “sensitivity and bias conscious training” to ensure an offending item like the noose is not deemed acceptable again, as it hung for at least seven months in the garage area.
Phelps – speaking to the media following the conclusion of the investigation – said that “all of our employees in our industry” need to conduct the training.
“Bubba Wallace and the 43 team had nothing to do with this,” said Phelps, addressing conspiracy theories made against Wallace on social media, made by people claiming Wallace is trying to garner favour for his cause.
“Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity.
“It is offensive seeing anyone suggest otherwise, and frankly it’s further evidence of how far we still need to go as a society.”
Once the FBI ascertained a hate crime hadn’t been committed, some on social media also accused NASCAR and the Richard Petty team of being part of a cover-up. Whether it was a noose or not was even brought into question, which Wallace addressed in the days following the race on CNN.
Phelps rubbished such claims, but did admit that he himself takes responsibility for the wording of the initial statement, which called the placing of the noose a “heinous act” before the investigation had concluded.
“I should have used the word ‘alleged’ in our statement,” said Phelps. Expanding on that later he added: “There’s been discussion and criticism on how this was handled and characterised.
“Some feel that the phrasing or words used were not right. That comes with the territory, and I will take full responsibility for that.
“And for the emotion that was attached to it, based on the evidence we had, we felt that one of our drivers had been threatened. A driver who had been extremely courageous in recent words and actions. It was our responsibility to react and investigate. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Phelps also praised the NASCAR community for its act of unity backing Wallace before the race, and issued a personal thank you to Wallace and the Richard Petty team for their role in last weekend’s events.
“I want to thank Bubba Wallace and everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports specifically thank Bubba for his leadership over this past three weeks,” added Phelps.
“Bubba has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity, and he stood tall for what he believes in.
“And we all need to stand with him, I know I’m going to.”