NASCAR stood by its decision to alert federal authorities to a rope that resembled a noose found in Bubba Wallace's garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway, even after the investigation determined it had been there since at least last October.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said Tuesday an investigation determined “nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned" to that same stall. NASCAR said it was the lone garage stall with a pull down rope that resembled a noose.
Wallace is the only Black driver at NASCAR's top level and has become a leading activist in the sport during a push for racial equality. He has worn an “I Can't Breathe” shirt, had a Black Lives Matter paint scheme and successfully pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag.
In using his newfound voice, the 26-year-old has said he's received death threats and NASCAR had assigned him at-track security.
It made for heightened sensitivity and a potential overreaction when a crew member for Richard Petty Motorsports reported a noose had been found sometime after Sunday's race was delayed by rain. NASCAR said it was “angry and outraged” over the “heinous act” that the series directly linked to racism.
The FBI sent 15 agents to Talladega for Monday's rescheduled race at the same time the industry rallied around Wallace. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, every team member on pit road lined up behind him during the national anthem.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps has taken exactly nine questions about the finding in Wallace's garage and none provided any details of the incident. Because of health protocol restrictions, a limited number of personnel have access to the garage. Drivers, including Wallace, never saw the rope.
Roughly 48 hours after the discovery, federal authorities said video confirmed the rope “was in that garage as early as October 2019" hanging from a garage door. The rope was referred to as a noose, but can be used as a handle when closing the door.
Phelps continued to call it a noose after authorities said no charges would be filed, and held firm in that NASCAR is investigating why the rope was tied that way. He was pleased it wasn’t a hate crime directed at Wallace, but insisted NASCAR would have conducted its investigation the same way even now knowing it was just a coincidence.
“We would have done the same investigation. It was important for us to do,” he said.
“The evidence was very clear that the noose that was in the garage was in there previously. The last race we had in October, that noose was present. The evidence we had, it was clear we needed to look into this.”
He took no questions on the FBI's findings.
Meanwhile, Wood Brothers Racing team said it cooperated with the investigation and an employee informed the team he recalled “seeing a tied handle in the garage pull down rope from last fall,” when the team had the stall.
NASCAR saying it had found a noose stunned the stock car series as it takes an active position in a push for inclusion while distancing itself from its rocky racial history. The series first tried to ban the Confederate flag five years ago but did nothing to enforce the order.
Wallace two weeks ago renewed the call for a ban and NASCAR answered, but it has yet to detail how it will stop the display. Talladega marked the first race since the coronavirus pandemic that fans were permitted - 5,000 were allowed to purchase tickets - and some upset with the flag ban paraded past the main entrance with the Southern symbol. A banner flew over the speedway Sunday of a Confederate flag that read “Defund NASCAR.”
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