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 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Change is sweeping NASCAR. No longer are fans being asked not to bring the Confederate flag to the track, they’re being told not to do so. Drivers are speaking up about social injustice more than they have. They’re listening and learning.
Monday, they stood with Wallace.
They gathered at Wallace’s car on pit road before the race. Johnson said on a group chat for drivers that he planned to stand with Wallace for the national anthem and invited his competitors to join him.
Kevin Harvick suggested they push Wallace’s car from its 24th starting spot to the end of pit road and the front of the field. Crew members walked with them. Joining them was 82-year-old team owner Richard Petty, who made the No. 43 that Wallace drives famous but never saw a day like Monday.
As Wallace started to climb from his car after being pushed by his competitors down pit road, he buried his head. Petty, who had not attended a race since the COVID-19 pandemic, comforted Wallace.
The day before had all seemed well to Wallace until Phelps told him about the noose in the garage stall. Wallace’s mother, Desiree, said on SiriusXM that when her son told her what happened, “at first he looked defeated.
“I said, ‘Look, that was an act of fear. I said they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. I said it was a cowardly act. I said and, at the end of the day, you don’t allow them to strip away your character or your integrity.”
Later Sunday night Wallace told Ryan Blaney, one of his closest friends what happened.
“I couldn’t find the words to describe how I felt,” said Blaney, who won Monday’s race. “I felt a mixture of anger and sadness for him, confused how anybody could do something like this. I just felt all these different emotions. I know he went through a big range.
“You hate to see your buddies or anybody you love be sad and be hurting. I tried to support him the best I could. Gave him a big hug before he left. I think it was just a multiple range of emotions. Last night I was really angry. I couldn’t fall asleep.”
Some drivers weren’t aware of what happened until Monday morning.
“My immediate reaction was just speechless,” Aric Almirola said. “I couldn’t believe that somebody would do that.”
Almirola, who says he wouldn’t have gotten the chance to compete in NASCAR’s highest levels had he not been a part of a diversity program set up by Joe Gibbs and the late Reggie White, finished third in Monday’s race.
“So growing up trying to race as a Cuban American, sure, I’ve had things said to me, things that were offensive, that hurt,” Almirola said. “I actually told Bubba (Monday) morning that on a very, very small scale I can relate and I can empathize. I have never had to go through what he’s had to go through in the last couple weeks, and especially in the last 24 hours. I feel for him immensely.
“I think that the sport has worked so hard since I got my opportunity in 2004 to adapt. I think forever NASCAR has been considered an All‑American sport. All of America has changed and evolved a lot over time. I think that NASCAR has done an incredible job of being inclusive and making sure that the garage area, the spectators, the fan area, that they all resemble all of America.”
That was evident Monday. Talladega was allowed to have up to 5,000 fans and Wallace, who finished 14th, walked to them and slapped hands through the fence. A few fans wore Black Lives Matter shirts.
“Look, first (time) fans right here, from Atlanta,” Wallace said in an interview with Fox after the race. “That is so cool. This sport is changing. The deal that happened (Sunday), sorry I’m not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was you’re not going to take my smile and I’m going to keep on going.”
It’s not just him that will keep going but all of NASCAR.
An apparent noose was discovered this past weekend at Sonoma Raceway, according to Steve Page, the track’s president and general manager.
In a statement, Page said: “On Saturday, a Sonoma Raceway staff member discovered a piece of twine tied in what appeared to be a noose hanging from a tree on raceway property. Our staff, on-site business tenants and local law enforcement have been contacted and asked to share any information they may have. The incident is under investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. Sonoma Raceway takes this incident very seriously and is dedicated to operating a facility that is welcoming to everyone.”
A spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office issued the following information in a press release:
“(Monday) at 10:06 am, deputies responded to Sonoma Raceway after receiving a call that a noose was found hanging from a tree near the old administration building. The suspected noose was found on Saturday, June 20, at approximately 8:00 am by an employee. The Sheriff’s Office began investigating this incident as a possible hate crime.
“The quarter-inch thick rope was cut down by employees upon its discovery, then handed over to deputies yesterday (Monday). The tree branch was approximately 14 feet above the ground. The rope appeared to be weathered from being outside for an extended period.
“A Raceway tenant remembered seeing the rope hanging from the tree about 7 to 8 years ago after crashing a model airplane. It was not tied in a noose at that time.
“Violent Crimes detectives are looking through video surveillance footage for leads on a suspect. This is all the information we have right now.
“We are continuing to investigate this incident with the FBI and are committed to conducting a thorough investigation and trying to find the person(s) involved in this incident. We understand why this case is disturbing for many people. We take potential hate crimes very seriously and want everyone to feel safe in Sonoma County.”
Sonoma Raceway hosts a variety of racing events at its facility. It has hosted NASCAR Cup races from 1989-2019. This year’s Cup race at Sonoma was moved to Charlotte Motor Speedway because of the COVID-19 pandemic.