NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace Speaks Out After FBI Investigation
No hate crime was found
Bubba Wallace has had quite a week. Sunday night he was informed that a noose had been found in the garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway and that he was the victim of a possible hate crime. The only Black driver in NASCAR’s top tier Cup series recently spoke out against racism and at a time when the subject of racism is at the forefront of America sparked by the killing of a Black man in Minnesota in late May. Wallace asked for the sport to ban the confederate flag from its events, which NASCAR did.
NASCAR immediately launched an investigation and Monday 15 FBI agents from the nearby Birmingham field office were on the property. Early in the investigation a crew member from another team revealed that they had seen the noose, which was part of the rope used to pull down the garage door, last fall.
The FBI, using in part video evidence, determined that the noose was indeed present last year and determined that no hate crime had been committed. Tuesday NASCAR released a statement confirming the results.
Social media began to light up, as it had Monday when the incident and the investigation was announced, and while most comments still overwhelmingly supported NASCAR and Wallace, some were questioning if the incident had been blown out of proportion, a few wondered if it had happened at all.
“I’m pissed,” Wallace said during an appearance on CNN Tuesday night. “I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity and they’re not stealing away from me, but they’re trying to test that. As a person doesn’t need the fame, doesn’t need the hype, the media – I could care less, two craps about that – but to sit there and read, I’m reading too much into it.”
NASCAR president Steve Phelps said Monday that he was the one who called Wallace to tell him what was found.
“It’s a phone call that I will never forget; it’s one of those phone calls that you can tell in the first couple of seconds that something is wrong,” Wallace said.
Phelps met with Wallace face to face shortly after.
“The conversation I had with Steve Phelps was probably one of the hardest things he had ever done,” Wallace said. “Tears rolling down his face, chocked up on every word that he was trying to say in the evidence that he had brought to me that a hate crime was committed. And I immediately thought my family was in danger, so I was about ready to call my dad and mom to make sure they were okay. It was in the garage stall that my car was at, so I was kind of taken back and not really comprehending everything.
“The image that I have seen of what was hanging in my garage is not a garage pull,” Wallace said. “I’ve been racing all my life. We’ve raced out of hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that. People that want to call it a garage pull put out old videos and photos of knots as their evidence, go ahead. From the evidence that I have, it’s a straight-up noose. The FBI has stated that it was a noose over and over again. NASCAR leadership has stated that it was a noose. I can confirm that. I actually got evidence of what was hanging in my garage over my car around my pit crew guy to confirm that it was a noose. Never seen anything like it.”
“But the way Steve was communicating to me that everything was going on, it showed he’s going to stand up for what’s right, and he’s not going to tolerate any racist acts and anything, and I stand behind Steve, and I stand behind NASCAR,” he commented. “Like they said in their statements, if it happened again, they wouldn’t change anything.”
The incident resulted in an unprecedented day of unity across the sport. Prior to the start of Monday’s race, every driver in attendance along with Wallace’s boss Richard Petty who flew in Monday morning just to support his driver, pushed the No. 43 car to the front of pit road. All gathered there during the invocation and the singing of the National Anthem. The movement carried over from social media where the hashtag #IStandWithBubba began to trend. The track painted the hashtag on the infield grass prior to the race. Drivers had been motivated to stand with Wallace thanks to Kevin Harvick who started a group text among the drivers.
Tuesday after the statements were released, NASCAR president Steve Phelps again held a teleconference with the media. He took no questions.
“Yesterday to me as a sport was one of the most important days we've had,” Phelps said. “It's one of the most kind of indelible print on my mind until the day I die, seeing the support that Bubba had from not just the drivers but all the crews, all the officials who were down in pit road, anyone who was part of that footprint. Everyone wanted to show their support for a family member of NASCAR. We are one big family. We are one large community. And everyone's belief is that someone was attacking a member of our family.
“It turned out that that was not the case, but at the time that's what our industry thought, so drivers, crew, our officials, everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team, and that was a very powerful image in not just the history of our sport but I think in all sports.
“We are continuing our portion of the investigation to try to determine why there was a rope fashioned into a noose, which obviously happened sometime last October or before, and we'll do that. And when we have further information, we will get back to the media.”