The last few weeks have been a watershed moment in NASCAR‘s history, and spearheading the charge is Bubba Wallace, the lone black driver in the Cup Series. When the sport appeared at one of its lowest points on Sunday night as a noose was discovered in his garage, the racing world united and rallied behind him.
Wallace has been considered the face of NASCAR’s push for inclusiveness, leading the calls to ban the Confederate battle flag as racial tensions and protests mounted in the country. On Sunday night, hours after the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was postponed to Monday, his Richard Petty Motorsports team found a noose in the garage. The discovery comes hours after protesters flew a plane with the Confederate flag to decry NASCAR’s decision to ban the emblem, with Saturday’s Xfinity Series race also seeing similar protests.
NASCAR and the FBI have since launched an investigation, with president Steve Phelps conducting a teleconference hours before Monday’s race to condemn the act. Although he was mum on details as the hunt is in its early stages, he proclaimed it “personally offends me” in regards to allegations that the noose placement was staged by Wallace or his team.
“We’re going to use every effort we can to determine who has done this, whether it’s a single person or multiple people,” Phelps said. “I know that the director of the FBI has informed the Birmingham office to use all their resources to find out, as well, all the resources available to NASCAR, the FBI.”
The track painted the hashtag #IStandWithBubba on the infield grass, with the phrase being shared by numerous drivers on social media prior to the race. During pre-race ceremonies, the drivers showed their support for Wallace by pushing his car on pit road to the front of the grid.
“Today during pre-race we will show the world what LOVE for one another looks like,” fellow driver Matt DiBenedetto tweeted. “Love for the entire human race. No politics, no agenda or narrative, no attacking people for their views, just love and spreading positivity. We can’t let terrible people drag us down”.
“The drivers feel very strongly that they want to show their support of Bubba,” Phelps commented. “He’s a member of the NASCAR community. He’s a member of the NASCAR family. The outpouring of support over the last couple weeks from our drivers, from the industry as a whole, from the fans, has been phenomenal.”
Team owner Richard Petty, who had been stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, also attended the race to give his support. The decision comes as a pleasant surprise for some who noted Petty had infamously remarked in 2017 that any employees protesting during the national anthem would be fired. RPM had fielded a Black Lives Matter paint scheme for Wallace at Martinsville Speedway, shortly after NASCAR had banned the Confederate flag.
“I’m enraged by the act of someone placing a noose in the garage stall of my race team,” Petty said. “There is absolutely no place in our sport or society for racism. This filthy act serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to eradicate racial prejudice and it galvanizes my resolve to use the resources of Richard Petty Motorsports to create change. The sick person who perpetrated this act must be found, exposed, and swiftly and immediately expelled from NASCAR.
“I believe in my heart this despicable act is not representative of the competitors I see each day in the NASCAR garage area. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Bubba, yesterday, today, tomorrow and every day forward.”
Wallace’s peers in other racing disciplines also reached out in support. The NTT IndyCar Series tweeted, “The fight against racism and the drive toward justice and equality is one of urgency and importance. We stand with @BubbaWallace and @NASCAR to ensure motorsports is welcoming and inclusive for everyone.”