NASCAR released an image Thursday of the noose found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, but the sanctioning body’s investigation failed to determine who fashioned it and why last October.
“I know we like to have complete resolution here and have all the answers,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Thursday in a teleconference with reporters. “Based on all the video and photographic evidence and all the interviews, we were not able to determine who crafted the noose. I know that’s unfulfilling. I wish there was more we could do but we can’t, so we’ve drawn this matter to a close.”
Phelps said that the noose was not in place when NASCAR’s October 2019 weekend began at Talladega “but was created at some point during that weekend. 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.”
Phelps also said that “in hindsight” NASCAR’s original statement could have toned down before it was confirmed by the FBI no hate crime was committed.
“if we had said alleged, yes,” Phelps said. “I’ll go back to the emotion of the moment. I’ll take responsibility for that. Should we have toned that message down slightly? Maybe we should have and I’ll take responsibility for that. I stand by the actions that we took, and I think they were the right ones. As I said before, given the evidence that we had, we would do the same thing, we would investigate it the same way. If it comes to where we need to craft the statement differently and I need to take a little less emotion out of, that’s something that I’ll do. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Phelps noted the heightened emotions recently in society and the sport, which included NASCAR banning the display of the Confederate flag, as leading Phelps to the reaction he made before the investigation was complete.
“It absolutely was a factor,” Phelps said. “I think being at the racetrack and someone’s ability to peaceful protest outside of our facility, we were all for. Have a guy flying over head in a crop duster with a Confederate flag saying defund NASCAR. Frankly … things that have led up to that, including the banning of the Confederate flag, something we were enforcing for the first time that weekend, fortunately we didn’t see any incidents of the Confederate flag on property. Our fans respected that. It was a great first step. But yeah, were there heightened emotions? What has gone on in the past two and a half weeks in our country and in our sport, I think absolutely. It was emotionally charged for a lot of people and I’ll include myself in that.”
Phelps said garage stalls at every track that host NASCAR Cup races were checked. He noted of the 1,684 garage stalls checked across the country, only 11 pull down ropes were tied into a note and only one was a noose.
“Bubba Wallace and the No. 43 team had nothing to do with this,” Phelps said. “Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity. It is offensive seeing anyone suggest otherwise and frankly, it is further evidence of how far we still need to go as a society.”
Phelps said additional measures would be taken moving forward:
# Thorough sweeps of the garage area will be conducted.
# Additional cameras will be installed in all NASCAR garages.
# NASCAR will mandate all members of its 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,” Phelps said.
NASCAR announced Sunday night that a noose was found in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega. In its statement that night, NASCAR said: “We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
Phelps said the noose was discovered a member of Richard Petty Motorsports. The team notified NASCAR at about 4:30 p.m. ET. NASCAR senior leadership met at 6 p.m. ET and began the initial steps of the investigation. Phelps notified Wallace of the noose at about 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday. NASCAR released a statement at about 10:40 p.m. ET Sunday. Early Monday morning, the FBI office in Birmingham, Alabama, reached out to NASCAR.
The FBI sent 15 investigators Monday morning to Talladega Superspeedway and determined that no hate crime had been committed, noting that the noose had been in that garage stall since at least October 2019 and “nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”
The garages were constructed last year and debuted in October 2019.
The FBI’s announcement led to a backlash on social media and some to question the intentions of Wallace, who was not in the garage and was not aware of the noose until informed by Phelps.
Said Wallace on NBC’s “Today Show” on Wednesday of his reaction to the FBI’s finding: “I was relieved just like many others to know that it wasn’t targeted towards me, but it’s still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just going to try to debunk you and that’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around now, from saying I’m a fake and all this stuff and that I reported it when it was news that was brought to me.”
“It was a rope pull for the garage door … but it was definitely in the shape of a noose.”
Watch @craigmelvin’s full interview with NASCAR driver @BubbaWallace about the FBI’s investigation into the rope found in his garage and outpouring of support from fellow drivers. pic.twitter.com/eTJEG457TX
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 24, 2020