With the FBI investigation determining the noose found in Bubba Wallace‘s stall at Talladega Superspeedway was a misunderstanding, NASCAR has released an image of the knot in question. During a teleconference on Thursday, president Steve Phelps broke down the timeline of the investigation and added additional details.
“Upon learning of and seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver,” Phelps said. “We’re living in a highly-charged and emotional time. What we saw was a symbol of hate and was only present in one area of the garage, that of the the #43 car of Bubba Wallace. In hindsight, we should have, I should have used the word ‘alleged’ in our statement. […]
“As you can see from the photo, the noose was real. That was our concern for Bubba.”
Phelps explained the noose was found in Wallace’s garage by a member of his #43 Richard Petty Motorsports team shortly after initial inspection on Sunday. Wallace noted in a Tuesday interview with ESPN’s First Take that the crewman was David Cropps, a black mechanic.
At roughly 4:30 PM, before the race was postponed due to weather, NASCAR was alerted to the noose, leading to a full sweep of the garage by security. Upon discovering that the #43 had the only garage with such a knot while the others’ ropes were unaltered, NASCAR’s leadership agreed at 6 PM to launch an investigation. At 7:30, Phelps notified Wallace as his team continued gathering information. NASCAR officially put out a statement at approximately 10:40 that night.
“I’ve spoken to Bubba a couple of times,” the president said. “I think it’s hard. The kind of twists and turns that happened on Tuesday, it was surprising for me. I know it was surprising for Bubba. It was surprising for our entire industry that we’re trying to point towards solving for what we believe was — it was an alleged hate crime, right? So that’s what we were solving for. And then to have it be, hey, this is something that actually was coincidental, that’s a very difficult thing to try to get to.
“But, listen, Bubba is a warrior, he is strong, he’s resolute in what he thinks is right. I find it, I just find it incredibly disturbing and that there are those that are out there that just feel the need to spread the hate or to spread false things, I just, I don’t understand it, I really don’t.”
On Monday morning, hours before the green flag, the FBI’s Birmingham branch responded to NASCAR’s attempt to reach contact. Fifteen agents arrived at the track at 10 AM, where NASCAR provided a list of personnel with garage clearance from that weekend’s GEICO 500 and the last Talladega race, the 1000Bulbs.com 500 last October. In pre-race ceremonies, drivers and crews came together to rally behind Wallace, including pushing his car to the front on pit road and taking a photo together, a moment that has drawn national attention and acclaim.
“I would also like to reinforce that we did see at Talladega in pre-race on Monday our drivers, crews and officials proudly demonstrated that we are united in the belief that there is no place for racism in our sport. […]
“My hope is that the fortunate results of the FBI investigation should not diminish the impact of that moment nor the message our sport sent. The world saw our true colours and it made us all incredibly proud.”
During the day, the FBI resumed their hunt by speaking with track and sanctioning body officials and staff, which included interviews and receiving a list of events between the two races. At the end of the day, the FBI found “inconclusive evidence”, but committed to continue receiving testimonies the next day.
Tuesday’s course of action saw NASCAR provide further information to the FBI, with the agency and the Attorney’s Office finishing the investigation as they “conclusively found that this was not a hate crime.” NASCAR was asked to remain quiet until the office released an official statement at 4:10 PM, with NASCAR doing their own five minutes later.
On Thursday before the teleconference, NASCAR shared the photo of the noose, which had been taken by NASCAR security during the investigation.
“I’ve never seen a garage door pull fashioned this way,” tweeted Stadium Super Trucks driver Bill Hynes.
Wallace had doubled down on the rope being a noose during an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday, saying he had “been racing all of my life. We’ve raced out hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that, so people who want to call it a garage pull and put out all the video of knots as their evidence, go ahead. From the evidence that we have, that I have, it’s a straight-up noose.”
NASCAR conducted a “thorough sweep” of every garage area across every track on NASCAR’s national series calendars. Across twenty-nine circuits and 1,684 garages, the investigation found eleven total garage ropes tied into a knot, but only Wallace’s was in the shape of a noose. Said noose had not been in place prior to the 1000Bulbs.com 500 weekend.
Phelps and NASCAR could not discover if there was any intent behind the noose or the person responsible. Wood Brothers Racing, whose #21 team had the garage for the fall race, released its own statement on Tuesday, explaining an employee had approached management saying he “recalled seeing a tied handle in the garage pull-down rope from last fall. We immediately alerted NASCAR and have assisted the investigation in every way possible.”
“I saw the picture and it looked like — obviously it looks like a noose, and I’m no expert on nooses,” Phelps noted. “I’m sure there are experts out there that would suggest that it function or it can’t function, I just don’t know.”
As countermeasures, NASCAR will install additional cameras, while all staff members must complete sensitivity and unconscious bias training. Additional security has also been provided for Wallace, who has been the target of racial slurs and attacks on social media since becoming the sport’s champion for equality and inclusiveness.
“Even before the goings-on at Talladega, Bubba has put himself out there,” Phelps commented. “I know there has been a lot of hate that has been spread his way, social media and other places. It’s important to increase his security and we’ve done that. We need to keep Bubba safe. We need to keep a member of our family safe.”
In response to claims that the noose was a hoax, including right-wing commentators comparing it to actor Jussie Smollett’s false hate crime accusation, he added: “I do think anyone who would suggest that this was a hoax or manufactured or that the events around this — I just find, again, personally offensive. I don’t know how people frankly think that way and I’m not going to try to, but I would say of all those things that’s probably the most offensive to me.”
Phelps also touched upon comments from fans who may have felt upset by NASCAR’s actions: “I don’t think anyone should feel embarrassed. I don’t think anyone, for those people who are not part of sport and are making comments about what we should or shouldn’t have done or it was a hoax and this is all fake… I can’t speak to that.
“But I would say NASCAR showed its true colours on Monday. Our drivers, our crews, anyone at the race track, but more importantly, all the fans watching on TV. I watched it on television and I’m not embarrassed to say I cried. It was an emotional, moving moment for our sport and I think it’s an important one that suggests NASCAR is welcome to all.”
However, Phelps took responsibility for the initial statement by NASCAR, which publicised the incident and proclaimed it as a potential hate crime before the investigation was completed: “Should we have toned that message slightly? Maybe we should have, and I’ll take responsibility for that. I stand by the actions that we took, and I believe we took the right ones.”
With NASCAR’s push since June for inclusiveness, which included banning the Confederate battle flag from its premises, Phelps addressed the protests during the weekend. Prior to Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the superspeedway, trucks with the flag sat outside the track. On Sunday, the Sons of Confederate Veterans flew a plane with the flag and “Defund NASCAR” attached (a reference to calls to defund the police); although many have noted the phrase is factually impossible as NASCAR is a private entity, the SCV will reportedly continue the act.
The president explained, “[T]hings that have led up to that, including the banning of the Confederate flag, something that we were enforcing for the first time that weekend and fortunately we didn’t see any incidents of the Confederate flag on the property and our fans respected that. And it was a great first step on that front.”
Phelps concluded the conference with a closing statement: “I want to thank Bubba Wallace and everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports, specifically thank Bubba for his leadership over this past three weeks. 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.
“As we pivot now and look forward to racing this weekend at Pocono (Raceway), I think it’s important to make sure that we are getting back to something that helps take, people take incredible comfort and enjoy so much, which is our racing and that’s what we need to try to get back and doing. We had a phenomenal race at Talladega with a ton of emotion and we’re looking forward to getting to this quadruple weekend of racing in Pocono and I just want to thank everyone for their support and for their time today.”