WASHINGTON — NASCAR's internal investigation has been unable to determine who tied a noose out of the garage door pull in the Talladega Superspeedway stall that was assigned to the circuit's only African American driver, nor was it able to determine the intent behind it.
But in releasing a photograph taken by NASCAR security of the noose, and in discussing the incident during a teleconference, NASCAR president Steve Phelps made clear that NASCAR was correct in responding with urgency in investigating a potential hate crime.
"As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba," Phelps said.
As part of its internal investigation, Phelps said NASCAR conducted a thorough sweep of the garage areas of the 29 tracks across the country where it races. Among the 1,684 garage stalls it reviewed, it found that 11 had a pull-down ropes tied in a knot. Of those 11, only one was tied in a noose – the one that was reported dangling in the garage assigned to Bubba Wallace's No. 43 team.
"Our initial reaction was to protect our driver. We are living in a highly charged and emotional time. Based on the evidence we had, we felt that one of our drivers had been threatened – a driver who had been extremely courageous in hi recent words and deeds."
Wallace, 26, had called on NASCAR to ban displays of the Confederate flag to help make all people feel welcome at its events.
Phelps said that in hindsight, he should have used the word "alleged" in his statement condemning what he referred to as a "heinous act" Sunday night after the noose was reported.
Phelps's announcement concludes the sport's investigation into the incident, although he made clear the sport would require sensitivity training for its participants.
Phelps's remarks came two days after the FBI announced that no federal hate crime was committed because the rope, which the FBI's statement referred to as a noose, had been in that same garage stall since at least October 2019, when NASCAR last raced at Talladega.
But NASCAR's closure on the incident likely won't quell the racial tensions that have roiled the sport and heightened daily since Phelps announced June 10 that it was banning displays of the Confederate flag at its racetracks as part of its goal of sending a message that all fans are welcome at its events.
"We are not going to back off that policy," Phelps said.
NASCAR's biggest and fastest track, the 2.66-mile, high-banked Talladega Superspeedway is owned and operated by the sport itself, part of NASCAR's 13-track portfolio that includes Daytona International Speedway, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and tracks in Michigan, Richmond and elsewhere.