The Bubba Wallace noose investigation at the GEICO 500 may have happened two weeks ago, but that isn’t stopping the President of the United States from getting involved. On Monday morning, Donald Trump tweeted for Wallace to apologise for supposedly overblowing a “hoax”, while also blasting NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag earlier in June.
On Twitter, Trump posted, “Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”
The noose-tied garage pull discovered in Wallace’s garage at Talladega Superspeedway was ultimately found to not be a hate crime after an FBI investigation. Although the person responsible for tying it and their motive is unknown, the circumstances at the time, including the flag ban (which had sparked a protest during the weekend) and Wallace and his peers’ support of the Black Lives Matter protests, made NASCAR’s decision to look into it a fairly reasonable one. NASCAR president Steve Phelps admitted in a teleconference that NASCAR could have lightened its tone rather than immediately concluding it was a potential hate crime, but has stood by the body’s actions.
In the end, it can be chalked up to a misunderstanding fueled by coincidence (Wallace had been assigned the stall, the only one of 1,684 garages on the NASCAR calendar with such a tied pull, via points ordering) and the climate of recent events. Regardless of the investigation’s result, Phelps and those in the industry expressed their pride in the drivers when they walked beside Wallace prior to the Talladega race in a show of solidarity.
Nevertheless, this has not stopped right-wing commentators from taking shots at Wallace and the sport for the noose and flag ban. Some claim the ban will drive away NASCAR’s core demographic in the South. Others have accused Wallace of emulating black actor Jussie Smollett, who was charged in 2019 after falsely alleging he was attacked in a racially-charged assault. However, the latter notion has various holes: the noose was ultimately and obviously real (with NASCAR releasing a photo shortly after), while Wallace had only been informed of its presence as drivers were not allowed into the garage due to COVID-19.
Fox Sports’ Executive Vice President Michael Mulvihill debunked Trump’s claim of the “lowest ratings EVER!”, pointing out that races on the networks have gone up by eight percent since the season resumed in May. Although this can attributed to factors like the lack of live sports due to the pandemic, the sport has been plagued by numerous weather delays since the return. Interest from non-fans thanks to NASCAR’s recent push for inclusiveness is not concrete, but notable figures including NFL players Bernard Pollard and Alvin Kamara have expressed genuine curiosity for the sport since the flag ban. The former has become a favourite among the NASCAR community for his Twitter questions about the sport during races, while the latter attended the Homestead-Miami Speedway event, the first with spectators back.
Many in the racing world have come out to defend Wallace against Trump. Some fans have remarked the responses are a pleasant surprise considering the president and NASCAR’s relations, with some drivers supporting his 2016 campaign and him giving the command at the Daytona 500 last February.
“We don’t need an apology,” tweeted Cup Series rookie Tyler Reddick. Although the tweet was eventually deleted, the reigning Xfinity Series champion was one of the first white drivers to support the protests. “We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support.”
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson posted a graphic issuing his support.
Xfinity drivers Myatt Snider and Robby Lyons quote-retweeted Trump with memes.
“Where’s there a necessary apology? We are still by his side,” Xfinity driver Brandon Brown said.
Ex-Cup racer Matt Tifft questioned, “Don’t you have more important things to worry about as the president?”
Drivers from the NTT IndyCar Series also joined the defense, with Jack Harvey posting, “I don’t care about the tv numbers. I care about what’s right! #IStandWithBubba”. J.R. Hildebrand weighed in by quipping, “I mean, if I was going to be this late to a party I’d probably just skip it.”
Wallace also responded, but he has long been active on social media since becoming the spearhead of NASCAR’s social progressiveness. After finishing ninth in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 for his third top ten of the year (tying his Cup career-high), he took a shot at former baseball player and Trump supporter Aubrey Huff; Huff had “wanted to wish Bubba good luck on his next 32nd place finish” as the two clashed over the flag ban.
“I find it hard to believe that the President would send out such a misinformed tweet,” Wallace’s Richard Petty Motorsports team owner Andrew Murstein said. “Perhaps one of his staff did it without his knowledge or he doesn’t know the facts. After all of the information that has come out regarding the noose incident, such a late, misinformed, and factually incorrect statement seems completely unwarranted, especially after the photo came out.
“I could go on and on, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Bubba has reacted in a truthful, professional, level headed and positive manner. The NASCAR community, and those in the know all stand by him.”
UPDATE: Wallace has spoken on Trump’s tweet:
“Your words and actions will always be held to a higher standard than others. You have to be prepared for that. You don’t learn these things in school. You learn them from trials and tribulations, the ups and downs this crazy world provides. You will always have people testing you. Seeing if they can knock you off your pedestal. I encourage you to keep your head held high and walk proudly on the path you have chosen. Never let anybody tell you can’t do something! God put us all here for a reason. Find that reason and be proud of it and work your tails off every day towards it! All the haters are doing is elevating your voice and platform to much greater heights!
“Last thing, always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate.
“Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS.. Love wins”
UPDATE 2: NASCAR has issued the following statement in support of Wallace:
“We are proud to have Bubba Wallace in the NASCAR family and we commend his courage and leadership. NASCAR continues to stand tall with Bubba, our competitors and everyone who makes our sport welcoming and inclusive for all racing fans.”
UPDATE 3: Wallace has gained an endorsement deal with headphone manufacturer Beats by Dre.
“We weren’t going to announce this until later this week, but hate cannot win the day. No one should ever be asked to apologize for standing up for what’s right — we are proud to welcome @bubbawallace to the Beats by Dr. Dre family,” read a company statement.
Basketball star and Beats athlete LeBron James, who has supported Wallace as he leads NASCAR’s charge, welcomed the driver to the Beats family.
Although it is a personal deal and not a team sponsorship, The Sports Business Journal‘s Adam Stern tweeted RPM is in talks with potential sponsors.