George Floyd

Bubba Wallace fans at Talladega: ‘We were there for him’

4 Comments

As engines fell silent and drivers climbed from their cars, another sound emerged Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.

It started with a couple of fans chanting.

“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”

Soon more joined.

“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”

Lydia Diaz, a 30-year-old mother of two and Walmart employee, yelled so much that her head began to hurt, but she kept chanting Bubba Wallace’s name.

Diaz was among a group of about 15 Black fans who came from Atlanta to support Wallace, a day after NASCAR stated that a noose was discovered in his team’s garage stall at Talladega.

The FBI later said that no federal hate crime was committed against Wallace because the noose had been there since Oct. 2019 and there was no way to know back then that his team would be in that particular stall this year. A NASCAR investigation could not determine why the pull down rope for the garage bay door was fashioned that way and who did it.

MORE: Recent events leave Bubba Wallace hopeful but also wore out and frustrated 

In the stands with Diaz on Monday was fiancé Mel Rose and friend Brionne Horne. Also there was Errin Bentley and Greg Drumwright, a senior minister at the Citadel of Praise Church and Campus Ministries. Bentley had called Drumwright, telling him about the noose found in Wallace’s garage stall and asked Drumwright to help organize a group to go to Talladega.

When the race ended, Wallace was so far away on pit road from the stands that Diaz said he looked “a little like an ant” to her. But the group continued to chant Wallace’s name.

“I heard the Bubba chants, and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands,” Wallace said. “I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.”

He did. Wallace slapped their hands through the fence and thanked them for being there. 

“That was an epic moment for me,” said the 36-year-old Bentley, a restaurant employee. “That was an out-of-body experience.”

It was a bigger moment for the sport, said Brad Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team.

“When I saw those fans leaning against the fence, I thought, man, this is awesome, this is what we need,” Daugherty said. “We need the symbolism of people not being discouraged to come and participate in our sport.

“It made me feel great. I’m so excited. I’m telling you, the folks at NASCAR better watch out. I’ve got about a hundred people that I want to get garage and pit passes for. It’s going to be big. They want to come to the racetrack.

“It’s going to be great to see a sea of color as well as being embraced by our Caucasian brothers and sisters while we’re there. Maybe we can get back to this being about race, but the human race.”

———————

They call Drumwright Pastor Greg. His church is in Greensboro, North Carolina, but his ministry is where healing and justice are needed.

He went to Brunswick, Georgia after Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a white man while jogging.

Drumwright was in Minneapolis where George Floyd died after a since-fired white police officer had his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Drumwright traveled to Houston for Floyd’s funeral.

Drumwright then went to Atlanta after a since-fired white police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks.

Never did Drumwright expect he would go next to Talladega, Alabama.

But Bentley felt something had to be done after seeing the reports about the noose.

“I felt like if I was to be just like the other millions of people that say I’ll let somebody else handle it, then I’ll become part of the problem,” Bentley said. “It’s really that simple to me. That is really a big major problem that we have, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, whether it’s human rights, civil rights or anything of that nature, someone is always trying to pass something over to somebody else.

“Nobody wants to take responsibility. Nobody wants to stand up and be the face. Too many people are afraid. That’s part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution.”

For as much as NASCAR has progressed with diversity, its past and stereotype cast a long shadow over the sport. When Drumwright organized the group to go to Talladega on Monday, he and others got calls from friends and families urging them not to go.

“This far into 2020, it is still a commonly held belief that Black folks are not safe in an overwhelmingly white space in the Deep South,” Drumwright said.

It had been less than two weeks that NASCAR announced it was banning the display of the Confederate flag at all its events and facilities. Just the day before they were at the track, a plane flew over the speedway towing a Confederate flag and the message to Defund NASCAR.

When the group with Drumwright stopped at a Dollar General store in Alabama to purchase supplies for posters to take to the track, he said “we were literally told by local residents, you all need to be careful … but we were also told, we are glad you are here, We needed you all to come here. Thank you for being here.”

Fans who made the trip to Atlanta to Talladega Superspeedway to support Bubba Wallace. Among those pictured are Errin Bentley (far left) and Lydia Diaz (green shirt). (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

———————

Drumwright wore a black shirt that read “We Still Can’t Breathe” on it. Horne was among a few in the group who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt. The message on Bentley’s shirt stated: “We march. Y’all mad. We sit down. Y’all mad. We speak up. Y’all mad. We kneel. Y’all mad. We die. Silence.”

The posters they carried included those that stated:

“We stand with Bubba”

“We Bang with Bubba”

“Let Freedom Ring”

“Take Your Knee Off Our Neck”

When they arrived at the track, they saw a tent set up not on track property selling Confederate flags.

“It’s still difficult to look at it,” Horne said of the Confederate flag.

Those in the group admit to getting stares, eye rolls and seeing some people look away after they arrived at the track.

But those that made the trip to Talladega also said they were warmly welcomed by fans.

Horne, a 20-year-old student at Georgia Southern, said a fan came to members of the group and asked to take a picture with them.

“After that, it was like family after family after person after person kept asking us to take pictures (with them), showing their support and their love for what we were out there doing for the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “That, I feel like, completely changed the fear, the anxiety we had walking into Talladega.”

Bentley, who had never been to a NASCAR race before Monday said he was more afraid going to Talladega than any time he has protested in the streets. Bentley said after attending Monday’s race, he would encourage Black fans to go to a race and support Wallace.

“I would tell them don’t be afraid,” he said. “If they were afraid, you don’t have to be afraid anymore.

“As long as we are afraid to do something, we don’t have any control. We don’t have any fight. You’ve got to have courage, you’ve got to have heart, that will to want. (Wallace) needs our support. We need his support.”

NASCAR Cup races this weekend at Pocono Raceway, July 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and July 12 at Kentucky Speedway will be held without fans. The next race scheduled to have fans will be the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will admit up to 30,000 fans.

Drumwright, who wants a meeting with NASCAR leadership, said he is looking to organize a larger group for the Bristol race.

Diaz, a mother of boys ages 2 and 3, said it was “mission accomplished” for the Talladega trip but acknowledges more can be done in society.

“I’ve been out here for the last month, fighting for everybody to be equal so my kids, when they are older, they can go wherever they want and they do whatever they want and they don’t have to worry about nobody judging them because of who their father is or who their mother is or the color of their skin,” she said. “That’s what I’m out here for, honestly, every day.

“I wanted Bubba to know that we supported him for that noose that was found in his garage. I wanted him to know that we were there for him.”

 and on Facebook

Bubba Wallace: ‘People are wanting to stand up for what’s right in this world’

3 Comments

Bubba Wallace knew when he spoke about Black Lives Matter that he would face responses that “all lives matter.”

Wallace, whose car Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway had #BlackLivesMatter on it, explained in a media session Friday about the importance of Black Lives Matter, his form of protest, what’s next and more.

“There is a poster of a little girl that says, yes we said Black Lives Matter, no we did not say only Black Lives Matter,” Wallace said. “We know that all lives matter, but we are trying to make you all understand that Black Lives Matter, too. Too. T-o-o. It’s three letters that is left off that people don’t understand. Black Lives Matter, too.

“Families are worried about their kids going out and driving for the first time and getting pulled over and being killed. The African American community is so worried about that right now. We shouldn’t live like that. The African American community should not live like that. We’re trying to get other people to understand just how tough it is to live in this world right now.”

Bubba Wallace during the national anthem last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wallace also has spread his message by wearing an American Flag face covering and a T-shirt that states “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” during pre-race ceremonies the past two races. “I can’t breathe” is what George Floyd said before he died May 25 after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer put his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. 

While other athletes have kneeled during the national anthem to protest social injustice perviously — NASCAR official Kirk Price, who served in the U.S. Army, kneeled while saluting the flag last weekend at Atlanta — Wallace has remained standing during the anthem the last two races.

Asked if he will kneel during the anthem, Wallace said he is studying the matter. NASCAR recently removed requirements on what team members must do during the national anthem, allowing for peaceful protest.

“I’m still looking up and reading on stuff and learning,” Wallace said. “Exactly what the message we are trying to push across, learn, and understand. I think the messages that I have been putting out there on the racetrack during the anthem is speaking for itself, so I haven’t put much more thought into that.

“I loved that the official Kirk Price took that initiative and stood for what he believed in, kneeled for what he believed it, a man that served our nation in the military kneeled, so I thought that was pretty powerful.”

Some athletes have commented about Wallace on social media, including LeBron James, NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.

Wallace said he has had conversations with Joshua Dobbs of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two met when Dobbs played quarterback at the University of Tennessee, which is Wallace’s favorite college football team. Dobbs was among the Jacksonville Jaguar players and team officials who protested racial inequality and police brutality during a June 5 march from their stadium to the steps of the sheriff’s department.

“He reached out last night with some powerful quotes that he lives by and made a ton of sense and just kind of fit the narrative that we are living in the world today,” Wallace said. “There’s been a lot of outreach just from social media fan points, privately, that was probably one of the ones; but there is a lot of support in my corner from all aspects; from sports, from just normal people, people that are wanting to stand up for what’s right in this world.”

As for what is next, Wallace said he isn’t sure. He has ideas and is looking forward to a meeting Tuesday between “key leaders” in NASCAR and select drivers. They’ll discuss what more the sport can do after announcing this week it is prohibiting the display of the Confederate flag at all NASCAR events and facilities.

Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic that fans will be in the stands for a race since the NASCAR season resumed last month. Up to 1,000 military guests and family members will be allowed at the race. Up to 5,000 fans will be allowed for the June 21 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. As of Friday afternoon, tickets remained for that race.

Wallace looks forward to the return of fans and seeing more at races at some point.

“I would love to see us get back to normal and fans to come back in full capacity just to see how much more diverse or different demographics we bring in,” Wallace said. “I would love to see studies on that as we start allowing fans to come back.”

Wallace also knows that being more vocal can make him a target to some.

“I like to go out and sometimes spend time in the infield with the fans and have a good time,” Wallace said. “I haven’t been ridiculed against. I know that is going to change now. I’ve got to be careful what I do and that’s kind of the sad world we live in. My dad had texted me that he was proud of what I was doing on and off the racetrack, but he was worried about safety, going out in public and whatnot. Just crazy that you have to think about that sides of things.”

“Definitely have got to watch your back now and can’t be like that outspoken guy, just happy-go-lucky guy that would go take a trip on the golf cart or my longboard down into the infield, or whatever, and have a good time.”

North Carolina Governor calls racetrack’s actions a ‘reckless decision’

2 Comments

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called it a “reckless decision” for a racetrack to hold what was described as a “unity race” last weekend as a way to avoid restrictions on mass gatherings. Gov. Cooper vowed that the state would take action this week if the county did not.

Ace Speedway, a 4/10-mile track located about two hours northeast of Charlotte Motor Speedway, has had crowds in recent weekends that exceeded the state’s mandate on social gatherings.

North Carolina is in Phase 2 of its re-opening. Gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Photos and video have shown many more than that at recent races at Ace Speedway. Last Saturday, the track placed a sign at its entrance that read: “This Event is held in PEACEFUL Protest of Injustice & Inequality Everywhere – Ace Speedway.”

Gov. Cooper was asked Monday during a media briefing if there are loopholes that allow protests to exceed gathering limits for events such as the racetrack’s this past weekend.

“People shouldn’t run a money-making operation that puts in danger not only their customers but anybody who would come into contact with their customers,” Gov. Cooper said. “This is a reckless decision being made by the owners, pulling people together in that way that can cause the spread of the (coronavirus) virus.

“Alamance County (home of the track) is one of the counties that is having higher numbers than it should have. We look forward to taking some action on this in the coming week.

“It’s concerning that Alamance officials have not been able to stop this. We would hope that they could. But if they can’t, then the state will have to take action, which we will do this week if the local officials don’t.”

NBC Sports reached out to track officials Monday. They had no comment.

Track owner Robert Turner has been outspoken about having fans at his races. In a May 21 story, Turner told the Times-News in Burlington, North Carolina, that “I’m going to race and I’m going to have people in the stands.”

“And unless they can barricade the road, I’m going to do it. The racing community wants to race. They’re sick and tired of the politics. People are not scared of something that ain’t killing nobody. It may kill .03 percent, but we deal with more than that every day, and I’m not buying it no more.

“I’ve got a business to run and a job to do, and when I can’t run my business and I can’t go to my job and make a full paycheck, I’m in jail already. So getting behind bars does not scare me. I’m going to speak my piece, and we’re going to do something.”

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson told the Winston-Salem Journal in a June 5 story that the track planned to host this past weekend what he described as a “unity race.” The event, Johnson told the newspaper, was geared toward rallying the community after George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in police custody. Floyd died after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Johnson argued the race at Ace Speedway was no different than Gov. Cooper marching with a crowd of protesters on June 1 with his mask down, exposing his face

The Journal and other media outlets reported that the General Cousel for Gov. Cooper addressed a four-page letter June 5 to Alamance County officials, including Sheriff Johnson that stated: “The recent races conducted by ACE Speedway, however, constitute commercial events, rather than gatherings filling under the auspices of the First Amendment, and therefore do not fall within that exemption. The Governor has broad authority to restrict commercial operations to address emergencies, like the public health emergency posed by COVID-19.”

Sheriff Johnson announced Monday that he would not issue the track a citation for all the fans it hosted last weekend, stating: “I have found through research and contacts with other Sheriffs in the state, that numerous speedways and Go (Kart) Tracks ran this weekend in North Carolina with no action being taken on those owners or even warnings given. This concerns me greatly to know that my citizens have basically been singled out for the same alleged violations that are occurring all over the State of North Carolina. … I have always tried to treat all persons with respect and dignity. Everyone should be treated equally. My understanding of the law and the conflicting orders issued by the Governor, leads me to question my authority on writing a citation to Mr. Robert Turner, owner of ACE Speedway.”

Click here for full statement from Alamance County Sheriff Johnson

North Carolina has seen an increase in coronavirus cases. Gov. Cooper said Monday

Gov. Cooper reported Monday that there have been 36,484 confirmed cases, 938 new cases reported Monday, 739 people in the hospital and 1,006 people have died.

“Today marks our highest day of people hospitalized from COVID-19 since the pandemic began,” Gov. Cooper said. “Over the weekend, we saw our single highest day of new cases reported. We’re seeing more viral spread and these numbers are concerning.”

Alamance County has accounted for 494 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Monday, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The county has had 23 deaths related to COIVD-19, according to the state.

The county is averaging 30 coronavirus cases per 10,000 residents. Thirty-six of the state’s 100 counties have a higher case rate per 10,000 residents than Alamance County. Most counties surrounding Alamance County have a higher case rate per 10,000 residents than it did as of Monday, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

 

NASCAR official: ‘I believe in humble protesting’

3 Comments

A black NASCAR official who saluted the flag from his knee during the national anthem Sunday told The Charlotte Observer that “I come from humble beginnings and I believe in humble protesting.”

Kirk Price, a NASCAR technical inspector, took a knee and raised his right fist during the invocation before Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Price, who told the Observer that he served on active duty for three years in the U.S. Army, remained kneeling while saluting the flag during the National Anthem.

“I wasn’t thinking about anybody else,” Price told the Observer. “I’m 49 years old and I’ve already witnessed things through what’s going on in the world as we speak.

“I could only think about ‘What can I do to make the world a better place?’ To where this gets out to where people can understand.”

Price’s action was among many before Sunday’s race by NASCAR addressing social injustice.

Bubba Wallace wears a “I Can’t Breathe, Black Lives Matter” shirt before Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Bubba Wallace wore a T-shirt that read “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” over his racing uniform before the race. “I can’t breathe” were the last words of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day after a former Minneapolis police officer pinned him down by placing a knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

NASCAR drivers came together this week to make a video that condemns racial inequality and racism. As part of the video, which was released before Sunday’s race, drivers said: “All of our voices, they make a difference. No matter how big or how small, it is all of our responsibility to no longer be silent.”

Series officials stopped the field on the frontstretch before the race and NASCAR President Steve Phelps read a message that included: “The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission.”

After Phelps spoke, a moment of silence was observed.

After the race, Ryan Blaney said he had attended peaceful protests this past week.

“That’s just something that you want to get involved with and support your fellow human being,” Blaney said. “We all have to treat each other equally. It kind of disgusts me when the race thing comes up and people hate a person for being a different pigment and not judging them by their character.”

NASCAR drivers taking active role in fight against social injustice

Leave a comment

Ryan Blaney said he took part in peaceful protests this week in Charlotte “just seeing and talking and learning.”

That’s just something that you want to get involved with and support your fellow human being. We all have to treat each other equally. It kind of disgusts me when the race thing comes up and people hate a person for being a different pigment and not judging them by their character.

“That’s just something that I can never understand, but it’s nice that I think a lot of people are really supporting it and it has a lot of traction behind it, and I thought today what they did on the frontstretch was a really good gesture to show how much we support them.”

Series officials stopped the field on the frontstretch before Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and NASCAR President Steve Phelps read a message that included: “The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission.”

A video of NASCAR drivers condemning racial inequality and racism was then played. Blaney was among those featured in the video.

Many communities have had protests since George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day while in custody of Minneapolis police. One officer, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes and has since been charged with second-degree murder.

The three other officers who did not stop Chauvin from kneeling on Floyd’s neck were charged with aiding and abetting murder. All four officers were fired.

Rookie Cup driver Tyler Reddick, whose girlfriend Alexa De Leon is a person of color, shared his thoughts on Phelps’ address Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track.”

“It’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to say,” Reddick said. “We have a platform in front of us where we’re able to push out and let everyone know where we stand, where NASCAR stands, where we stand as a sport. So it was a great opportunity … as we were sitting there on the frontstretch, there’s been very few moments where I’ve felt so excited, fulfilled and anxious … very fulfilling to be in that position.”

Kevin Harvick, who won Sunday’s race and is featured in the video by drivers condemning racism, said: “Something just has to change, and I think when you look at what happened in Minnesota, it’s just disgraceful to everyone. 

“To be able to have conversations about things, I’m definitely a person that wants to hear a plan that has actions included in it, and just try to support each other and do the things that we can do to try to help our communities and help the conversations because there’s so much that everyone doesn’t understand of what we need to do and how we need to do it. But I can tell you that we need change.”

Brad Keselowski, who also appeared in the driver video, stressed the importance of listening.

“I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I have all kinds of answers, but I think I can agree to listen and try to appreciate other perspectives and, more than anything else, just have empathy,” he said.

“I’ve been guilty and probably still am guilty a lot of times of not doing the best job of having empathy, but in these situations I think it’s really important. I can tell you that there ain’t no fun in seeing everything that’s been going on and I wish we could fix it. 

“We’ve spent the last 300 years as a country trying to fix it and we still ain’t got it right, so I guess that means we’ve got to keep working. Will I have the answer? No, but I think it starts with kind of owning your own box, your own 10 square feet so to speak. If you can’t make a problem better, certainly don’t make it worse. Sometimes I think we make it worse and don’t know we’re making it worse and that’s why it’s important to listen.”

Kyle Busch, who appears in the driver video, said he will have an interview with former Carolina Panthers Jonathan Stewart shortly.

“We wanted to put out a powerful statement and a message, and so I feel like we all did that together with NASCAR, and went well from all of our standpoints, so we’re happy to be able to do that and show our support to the black community,” Busch said of the driver video. “I also sat down this week with Jonathan Stewart, who was a former running back for the Carolina Panthers, and he and I were friends, so we had a good conversation this past week, so we recorded that, and we’re going to do some edits on that and be able to put that out, as well, from my side. Bubba Wallace did it with Ty Dillon, as well, so stuff like that has been happening, and it’s a time for us to take initiative but also to listen and learn and go from there.”