NASCAR has unable to determine who tied the noose found in the Talladega Superspeedway garage, specifically the stall that turned out to Darrell Wallace Jr.’s last weekend, after concluding its investigation.
Earlier this week, the FBI determined that Wallace was not the target of a hate crime, and the noose had been in the garage stall since October 2019. However, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said officials had a responsibility to answer critical questions of how the noose got there, whether anyone was an intended target, whether a noose was present anywhere else, and whether was there a code of conduct violation.
Wood Brothers Racing used the stall last fall. But Phelps said officials could not determine if a member of that team or someone else tied it, or what their intent was. NASCAR did discover that it was not there at the start of the weekend but created at some point.
NASCAR security swept the garage stalls not only at Talladega but all its other tracks, which represents a total of 1,684 stalls.
“NASCAR conducted a thorough sweep of all the garage areas across the tracks we race,” said Phelps, noting 29 tracks. “We found only 11 total that had a pulldown rope tied in a knot, and only one noose. The one discovered Sunday in Bubba Wallace’s garage.”
Phelps acknowledged the question of how the noose went unnoticed last fall and through the morning last weekend before its discovery remained a significant one.
“Our ultimate conclusion for this investigation is to ensure this never happens again, that no one walks by a noose without recognizing the potential damage it can do,” said Phelps. “Moving forward, we’ll be conducting thorough sweeps of the garage area to ensure nothing like this happens again, and we are installing additional cameras in all of our garages. We will make any changes necessary to our sanctions and our code of conduct, and we will mandate that all members of our industry complete sensitivity and unconscious bias training.
“Going forward, our efforts are best spent on making sure every competitor feels safe, and every guest feels welcome.”
The timeline of the discovery of the noose and NASCAR’s reaction was as follows, as laid out by Phelps:
- On Sunday, after initial inspection and before the race at Talladega, a member of the 43 team noticed the noose. At roughly 4:30 p.m., NASCAR was alerted, and they did a full sweep of the garage, and only the rope of the 43 team was a noose. All the others were regular ropes
- At about 6:00 p.m., NASCAR senior leadership met and determined an investigation was needed. At approximately 7:30 p.m., Phelps informed Wallace of the discovery. NASCAR continued to gather facts and felt a statement was needed, which went out around 10:45 p.m.
- Monday morning, the FBI Birmingham office reached out to NASCAR, and by roughly 10 a.m., they arrived with 15 field agents to begin their investigation.
- NASCAR provided the FBI with a list of personnel with access to the garage, as well as videos and photographs taken from the weekend, and the Oct. 2019 weekend.
- The FBI interviewed race team personnel from multiple teams, NASCAR officials, track fire and safety personnel and track custodial staff. Talladega also provided them with a list of events that had taken place since Oct. 2019
- By the end of Monday, the FBI said the evidence at that point was inconclusive, and they planned to continue the investigation the following morning.
- Tuesday morning, NASCAR received additional video from a team and provided that to the FBI that corroborated testimony from one of the interviews that said the noose was present in that stall during the October 2019 weekend.
- The U.S. Attorney’s office and FBI then informed NASCAR their investigation had conclusively found it was not a hate crime, which was announced Tuesday evening. NASCAR later released its statement and continued to investigate.
“Upon learning of and seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver,” said Phelps. “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, that was of the 43 car of Bubba Wallace. In hindsight, we should have — I should have — used the word ‘alleged’ in our statement. As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba.”
Phelps reiterated once more that Wallace and his team had nothing to do with the incident. He also acknowledged the criticism and discussion on how NASCAR handled it, and that the phrasing and words were not correct.
“I will take full responsibility for that, and for the emotion that was attached to it,” said Phelps. “Based on the evidence we had, we felt that one of our drivers had been threatened, a driver who had been extremely courageous in recent words and actions. It was our responsibility to react and investigation, and that’s exactly what we did.”
The most bothersome and offensive remarks to Phelps have been the continued suggestions that what occurred was a hoax or manufactured.
“I just don’t know how people, frankly, think that way, and I’m not going to try to,” said Phelps. “But, I would say of (everything) that’s the most offensive to me.”