Steve Phelps

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

President Trump tweets about Bubba Wallace

President Donald Trump tweeted Monday morning about Bubba Wallace, asking if the only Black driver racing full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series had apologized for what the President called “another hoax.”

Although not specifically referencing what the FBI described as a noose found in Wallace’s garage at Talladega Superspeedway, Trump references how drivers and NASCAR officials stood behind Wallace during pre-race ceremonies before the June 21 race.

Trump, who gave the command to begin the Daytona 500 in February and his motorcade led the field on to the track, tweeted: “Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”

The FBI determined that no hate crime was committed against Wallace because evidence showed that the garage tie-down rope was fashioned as a noose in October 2019 and no one could have known that Wallace’s team would occupy that stall eight months later. The rope in Wallace’s stall was the only one fashioned as noose.

The noose was discovered by a crew member of Wallace’s team. Because of NASCAR’s COVID-19 protocols, drivers are not allowed in the garage area.

Wallace was informed of the noose by NASCAR President Steve Phelps. NASCAR’s investigation did not determine who fashioned the rope in that manner or why.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson told drivers in a group chat that he planned to stand with Wallace during the national anthem before the Talladega race to show his support for Wallace. Former champion Kevin Harvick suggested that drivers push Wallace’s car from his spot in the starting grid to the front of the field.

Drivers did that and stood with Wallace for the invocation and national anthem. Many hugged him before the race. Richard Petty, who had not attended a race since NASCAR resumed during the COVID-19 pandemic, stood with Wallace. After the drivers pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the grid, Wallace climbed from the car and was overcome by emotion. Petty comforted Wallace by putting his arm around the driver.

NASCAR issued the following statement Monday afternoon:

We are proud to have Bubba Wallace in the NASCAR family and we commend his courage and leadership. NASCAR continues to stand tall with Bubba, our competitors and everyone who makes our sport welcoming and inclusive for all racing fans.

NASCAR President says COVID-19 protocols working

Leave a comment

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in an interview with NBC that he feels the sanctioning body’s COVID-19 protocols are working well, citing the limited number of positive tests in the sport.

Jimmie Johnson will not compete in Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after testing positive for COVID-19. His wife found out she had tested positive and Johnson then took a test.

Johnson said Saturday that he does not know how he and his wife contracted the coronavirus. Johnson, 44, has not experienced symptoms of COVID-19. When Johnson returns is uncertain. He must have two negative tests more than 24 hours apart and have a doctor’s release.

NBC’s Mike Tirico asked Phelps before Saturday’s Xfinity race about NASCAR’s protocols.

“I think the protocols have actually worked really, really well for us,” Phelps said.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate that Jimmie is going to be out of the car this weekend. Hopefully two negative tests next week and then get back in the car at Kentucky.

“I think the protocols have worked really well. It’s not perfect, but I think if you look at the procedures that we have in place and the policies that we have in place really to protect the drivers, the crews, our own officials and everyone that is working at the racetrack, the number of positive tests that we have had have been so few and far between. We’re really encouraged. We think the protocols are working as we had expected they would. Hopefully, Jimmie will be back soon and we won’t have any other drivers testing positive.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated Friday that as a precaution, it identified one member of the No. 48 traveling crew to self-quarantine due to close contact with Johnson.

Last month Stewart-Haas Racing confirmed that two employees had tested positive for coronavirus. Team Penske confirmed last month that one of its employees tested positive.

 

NASCAR releases image of noose but cannot determine who did it

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
20 Comments

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.”

Photo of noose at Talladega Superspeedway. Photo: NASCAR Security

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.”

 

FBI says no federal crime committed at Talladega

27 Comments

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office stated Tuesday that no federal hate crime was committed with the noose found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace‘s team on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp stated:

“On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway. After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed.

“The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.

“The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws. We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace, and everyone who cooperated with this investigation.”

The announcement led to a backlash among some on social media and led some to question Wallace, who was not in the garage and was not aware of the matter until informed by NASCAR President Steve Phelps.

Asked Tuesday night on “CNN Tonight with Don Lemon” how he was doing, Wallace said: “I’m pissed. I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity. They’re not stealing that away from me, but they’re trying to test me. … To sit there and read (social medial) … I’m investing too much time into it.”

Wallace defended Phelps, noting how Phelps went to Wallace’s motorhome on Sunday to address the matter of a noose in his garage stall. Wallace said Phelps had tears as he talked to Wallace.

“It showed the testament to him and the character that he has and how he is representing the sport, how he wants to stand up for what’s right and he’s not going to tolerate any racist acts or anything,” Wallace said. “I stand behind NASCAR.”

Wallace said he will remain the same person he is and how “I’ll shoot it to you straight each and every time because that’s how I was brought up and that’s what I stand by.

“In my statement on Sunday night, this will not break me, none of the allegations of it being a hoax will break me or tear me down,” Wallace said. “Will it piss me off? Absolutely. That only fuels the competitive drive in me to shut everybody up, to get back out on the racetrack (this) weekend at Pocono and showcase what I can do behind the wheel under tremendous amounts of BS, whatever it is you want to say. It won’t break me. It won’t tear me down. Again, I will still stand proud of where I am at.”

NASCAR stated that every garage stall was checked and only one had a noose as part of the rope to pull down the garage door. NASCAR plans to check every garage stall before teams arrive at each event.

Phelps said in a brief teleconference with reporters Tuesday night that he was thankful that there was no crime but NASCAR would continue to investigate why the rope was fashioned into a noose.

“For us at NASCAR, this is the best result we could hope for,” he said. “This was disturbing to hear that it was thought that one of our own had committed this heinous act. It is fantastic to hear from the FBI definitively that there was not a hate crime. I do want to make sure that everyone understands that if given the evidence we had, was delivered to us (Sunday) night or late Sunday afternoon, we would have done the same investigation. It was important to do. There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred. It’s not a part of who we are as a sport.

“I want to make sure everyone understands that our portion of this with the FBI, we were very cooperative as you would expect. We provided them with roster information, photographic and video evidence that aided them in their conclusions. Additionally, the industry was very supportive. Not just the members of (Wallace’s) team.

“I want to be clear about (Wallace’s) team. The 43 team had nothing to do with this. The evidence is very clear that the noose that was in that garage had been in the garage previously. The last race we had there in October (2019), that noose was present. The fact that it was not found until a member of the 43 team came there is something that is a fact. We had not been back to the garage. It was a quick one-day show. The crew member went back there. He saw the noose, brought it to the attention of his crew chief, who then went to the NASCAR (Cup) Series Director Jay Fabian and we launched this investigation.

“To be clear, we would do this again. Of the evidence we had, it was clear that we needed to look into this.”

Phelps went on to discuss Monday’s show of unity from drivers and crew members for Wallace before the race.

“I also want to talk about (Monday),” he said. “(Monday) to me as a sport was one of the most important days we’ve had. It’s one of the most kind of indelible print on my mind until the day I die, seeing the support that Bubba had from not just the drivers but all the crews, all the officials who were down in pit road, anyone who was part of that footprint. Everyone wanted to show their support for a family member of NASCAR. We are one big family. We are one large community. And everyone’s belief is that someone was attacking a member of our family.

“It turned out that that was not the case, but at the time that’s what our industry thought, so drivers, crews, our officials, everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team, and that was a very powerful image in not just the history of our sport but I think in all sports.”

Phelps took no questions from reporters.

Immediately after the statement from the FBI and U.S. Attorney, NASCAR issued a statement:

“The FBI has completed its investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime. The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment. We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.

The Wood Brothers issued a statement with regard to having that garage stall in 2019.

 

Bubba Wallace shares with Dale Jr. behind scene stories from Talladega

2 Comments

Bubba Wallace spent time talking with NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday discussing some of the events of the last few days at Talladega Superspeedway.

Wallace reveals his emotions before the race, the quip Richard Petty told him to help settle his emotions before climbing into the car and celebrating with fans at their first race after the event.

Here is part of the conversation Wallace and Earnhardt had for NASCAR America at Home:

Dale Jr.: What were you thinking as drivers pushed you down pit road before the race?

Bubba Wallace: I had walked out with headphones on just to kind of block out the noise and just kind of escape. Music is my escape, Dale. I forgot who came and tapped me, maybe it was (Corey) LaJoie or someone told me, ‘You ready to roll?’ I think that was when kind of the emotion came through … (That morning) I woke up and jumped on (the driver group chat) and Jimmie Johnson said ‘I’ll be standing next to Bubba during the anthem today’ and I lost it, I lost it right there. It’s not the hate that breaks me, it’s the support, knowing that people out there support me, makes you feel good, it pulls on your heartstrings for sure.

Bubba Wallace with Jimmie Johnson before Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So I think that’s kind the emotion I was running through that whole time. So getting out of the car, I had a lot of emotion there, just going through everything. It sucks to be kind of carrying all of that weight but it’s part of the journey. Being able to turn around and see all the drivers standing there was really cool. I don’t know what made me look and see if the whole garage was there. Jimmie had talked to me about it. He had called me a couple of hours before the race and said that people reached out and wanted to be a part of that. So I stood up on the door and I looked and saw basically the entire garage and I lost it. I stood up and almost collapsed. It looked like Atlanta all over again (laughs).

But man, it was something truly incredible to witness and to be a part of.  It makes me proud to have a voice in NASCAR and also be a driver and be a part of this sport, a family sport and we all know it’s family. As much as we give each other crap on the racetrack, I will say for a fact, word for word, I got out of the car and I said I don’t like half you guys but I do appreciate all of this (laughs). It was a true testament of how big a family sport this is.”

Dale Jr.: Tell me a little bit about NASCAR President Steve Phelps. Who is he to you?

Bubba Wallace: He’s becoming a bigger and bigger friend than he is … the president of the sanctioning body. I fired off a text message to him a couple of weeks ago. One of the first things I said, ‘Hey, I look at you as a friend, so if I say anything that offends you, we’re friends.’ … I told him we need to take a big stand. We needed to take a big stand and stand up for what’s right. He quickly called me right after that and we had a really good conversation of where he stood and where he wants the sport to go and where he wants us all to go as a whole. That was pretty powerful there.

“He’s been very transparent with me. … The conversation that I had about what went down Sunday was, one, scared the hell out of me because he called me and it was one of those like you just did something wrong, like, my mind was racing, what interview did I do did I say the wrong thing … he was like we needed to talk in person. He comes over to the bus and he walks in and he’s kind of got of that really quiet mellow voice. I said, ‘Hey Steve, how is it going?’ (He said) ‘not good.’ …

When he finally looked up at me, he had tears in his eyes. I don’t know what’s going on, what he’s about to say, what I’m getting at is showing how much Sunday meant to him and offended him and hurt him, showed the character that he is and the passion that he has behind the sport but also his drivers and his friends. That he was disrespected, he was hurt, he felt threatened. He was not going to let this get away and blow under the rug. He was going to do everything in his power to find justice for this and to this day he is still carrying that and even beyond.”

Dale Jr.: What is your personal support system like? Who is helping you through this?

Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace: One, Amanda, my girlfriend. She has been super supportive. … She knew how much pressure and how much I was going through from Sunday throughout the race, everything that went on the whole pre-race, just the whole couple of days and couple of weeks I’ve been going through. … She has been a huge support so I love her for that. My mom, my sister and my dad. They’ve been all been there. …

“Talked to (Ryan) Blaney a lot. He was over here last week and we had a good conversation, talking about everything that is going on in the sport and the world, how crazy it is and what we could do to be better. I think that small little support group there on top of everybody reaching out, including yourself. … It’s cool to see that support.”

Dale Jr.: What has it been like to see new fans come to the sport?

Bubba Wallace: Man, that has been really cool. I think that was a powerful moment even after the race. I was pumped for Blaney. I was contemplating walking out to the finish line and I was like that’s a long walk. I’ll wait until he drives by. I heard the Bubba chants and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands. 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.

“They were like, ‘We’re all the way from Atlanta, we drove over here to check out our first NASCAR race,’ and they were all so proud of me and proud to be there and happy to be there and it was super cool to witness and be able to do the interview with them in the background screaming and hollering in support was super cool.

“I’ve been saying it for the last couple of weeks and I’ve always stood by this, I want everybody to feel welcome. When I go to a sporting event, when I go to a (Charlotte) Hornets game or a (Carolina) Panthers game, I don’t feel like I’m unwelcome because of who I look like. I want that same feeling for anybody that comes to a NASCAR event, that comes to a race and … the Confederate flag was a thing that kind of held people back and maybe the actions of some fans toward other people held people back. I’m trying to change that narrative and show, hey, come on out. You don’t have to cheer on me. You can cheer on Ryan Blaney, whatever. … Learn about the sport. Learn about the strategy. Know that we’re just not driving in circles because we’re driving on ovals. We go straight a little bit. Learn the pit stops, what it takes, the choreography of that. Learns the ins and outs of the sport. That’s where you get hooked.”

Bubba Wallace with fans after Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Dale Jr.: Is racing a necessary outlet for you at these times?

Bubba Wallace: Absolutely. I told Jimmie (Johnson) after the race, we were walking back to our buses, I told him, man, I wish that race didn’t end, it was a lot of fun. Now the work starts. Racing is not work and you know that.

“(Richard Petty) The King, right before I climbed in, he said, ‘Well, this is your chance to flip off that switch on the back of your head where we shut our brains off and go out.’ He said here’s that little switch you can pull off. We had talked about it when he got there to the track a couple of hours before with him, myself and Brian Moffitt (CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports) were sitting there and talking. Drivers have that switch. Once you put that helmet on it, it hits that switch down and you turn it off. He said, now you get to turn off that switch, so go have fun.”