Declaring “the noose was real,” NASCAR officials on Thursday released a photo of the rope found in the garage stall of Black driver Bubba Wallace that prompted a federal investigation that determined it had been there since last October.
The incident has put racism front and centre for the stock car series that two weeks ago banned the Confederate flag from its venues and races at Wallace’s urging. It also prompted criticism from some fans that NASCAR had somehow overreacted – criticism NASCAR has bristled at and cited in releasing the photo from Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. The image was taken by NASCAR security.
“As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps said. “Based on the evidence we had, we thought our drivers – that one of our drivers had been threatened, a driver who had been extremely courageous in recent words and actions. It’s our responsibility to react and investigate, and that’s exactly what we did.”
NASCAR asked officials at every track to check their garages this week. NASCAR said out of 1,684 garage stalls at 29 tracks, only 11 had a garage door pull-down rope tied in a knot. The only one fashioned in a noose was the one discovered Sunday by a crew member in Wallace’s No. 43 garage stall.
NASCAR moved quickly and, by Monday, FBI agents were at the track. On Tuesday, authorities said the rope had been hanging there since last fall and thus was not a hate crime targeting the 26-year-old Wallace.
U.S. attorney Jay Town and FBI special agent in charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said “nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned” to that same stall.
Wallace never saw the rope. He said Phelps came to see him Sunday night at the track with “tears running down his face.” He also told CNN: " It was a noose. Whether it was tied in 2019 ... it is a noose. "
Phelps said NASCAR had determined the noose was not in place when the October, 2019, race weekend began, but was created at some point during that weekend,” he said. “Given that timing and the garage access policies and procedures at the time, we were unfortunately unable to determine with any certainty who tied this rope in this manner or why it was done.”
NASCAR’s investigation is over, Phelps said, and cameras will be added to garages moving forward.