By Alberto Garcia
A picture of the noose found this past weekend in the race car garage area of the only black driver in the highest level of stock car racing has been released after the FBI concluded it was not left as a hate crime.
The noose was first reported to have been found in the garage area used by Bubba Wallace, Jr. on Sunday before the race at Alabama’s famous Talladega Superspeedway.
Wallace commented two weeks ago that, although Confederate flags did not bother him, he realized after educating himself that they make many people uncomfortable and that NASCAR should go further than it had in 2015 when it suggested that people no longer display the flags at races.
Within days, NASCAR announced that it had decided to permanently ban Confederate flags at all of its races.
“The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR said in a statement. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”
Sunday’s race was to be the first one since the flag ban. Before the race, a convoy of pickup trucks displaying Confederate flags paraded outside the race track, and an airplane towed a large aerial banner with a Confederate flag and the words, “DEFUND NASCAR”. The race was ultimately postponed for one day because of bad weather.
Earlier on Sunday, someone found the rope noose in the garage area and reported it to NASCAR officials. Wallace was notified of the noose but he and his team were not the ones that found it.
“Upon learning of and seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver,” NASCAR President Steve 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 and that was of the 43 car of Bubba Wallace.”
NASCAR reported the incident to the local FBI office which looked into the situation to see if it had been done to intimidate or harass Wallace as a hate crime.
During its investigation, the FBI determined that the rope had been in the garage area since at least October of last year, before Wallace as assigned that garage space.
Race officials examined all 29 tracks used for their races, which include 1,684 garage stalls, including 44 stalls at Talladega. Only 11 stalls use a pull-down rope tied in a knot, and only the one in Wallace’s garage was tied into a noose. None of the other ropes resemble a noose.
The picture released by NASCAR shows a rope with several coils wrapped around the loop tied exactly like nooses that historically were used to hang people and became a symbol of hate crimes when they were widely used in segregation-era lynchings of black men in the South.
Phelps said NASCAR will implement sensitivity and unconscious bias training for members of NASCAR racing teams and event staff.
“Our ultimate conclusion for this investigation is to ensure that this never happens again, that no one walks by a noose without recognizing the potential damage it can do,” Phelps added.
After the announcement that the noose had not been left specifically for Wallace, some detractors complained that NASCAR and Wallace had overreacted to the rope and incorrectly attributed it to a racially-based taunt.
But Wallace responded that he is “pissed” that some people are now questioning his integrity.
I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity,” Wallace said during an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday. “Whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose. So, it wasn’t directed at me but somebody tied a noose. That’s what I’m saying.”
Several people related to racing have posted disturbing social media messages expressing their opposition to Wallace and the banning of Confederate flags.
Earlier this week, Dustin Skinner, a former NASCAR Truck series racer and son of former NASCAR star Mike Skinner, posted a comment about Wallace on Facebook that drew an immediate backlash, even from his own famous father.
“I know it’s not what you guys want to hear but my hats off to who put the noose at his car…frankly I wish they would of tied it to him and drugged him around the pits because he has single-handedly destroyed what I grew up watching and cared about for 30 years now,” Dustin Skinner wrote. “I will not watch this sport anymore and that’s sad…go NASCAR…I hope the scumbag piece of shit was worth what has been started but let me assure you he wasn’t,” Skinner added.
Skinner later posted a message apologizing for his comments, and his father also posted a message distancing the family from the original post.
Another driver in the Truck Series, Ray Ciccarelli, said he plans to quit racing after NASCAR announced the ban on Confederate flags. Ciccarelli only raced part-time in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. He raced 18 times in the last three years but never won a race.
And this week an owner of a track in North Carolina that hosts dirt track races advertised “Bubba Rope” for sale on its online store “for only $9.99 each, they come with a lifetime warranty and work great”. The track also promoted a “Heritage Night” for this coming Saturday, encouraging fans to purchase Confederate flags and hats, and added “don’t forget your 2nd Amendment Right”, referring to the fundamental right to own guns.
The GEICO 500 race, one of 26 annual races in the NASCAR’s Cup Series, was run on Monday after the weather delay. Driver Ryan Blaney in the #14 Ford won the race and Wallace, in the #43 Chevrolet, came in 14th place.
NASCAR, short for the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, is a privately owned company that sanctions and runs car races in 48 US states as well as in Canada, Mexico, and Europe. NASCAR sanctions 14 levels of races. Formally known as the Winston Cup, NEXTEL Cup, Sprint Cup, and Monster Energy Cup, the Cup Series is NASCAR’s highest level of races.