Bubba Wallace said it had been “an emotional few days” for him after NASCAR found what officials thought was a noose in his stall at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, until the FBI determined the rope had been hanging in that garage for almost a year.
“First off, I want to say how relieved I am that the investigation revealed that this wasn’t what we feared it was,” Wallace said in a statement posted to social media Wednesday. “I want to thank my team, NASCAR and the FBI for acting swiftly and treating this as a real threat. I think we’ll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been.”
The FBI said there was no hate crime after determining the noose was being used as a pull rope for an overhead garage door.
The only Black full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, Wallace spoke out against the Confederate flag’s ubiquitous presence at NASCAR races earlier this month.
In response, and amid a shifting dialogue about racism in the sports world and beyond, NASCAR banned the flag from its tracks.
That angered many some, especially in NASCAR’s Southern fanbase, and Wallace received hateful messages on social media long before the suspected noose was discovered.
But the sport rallied around him; after the race was rain delayed from Sunday to Monday, the rest of the drivers and their crews walked alongside Wallace’s car in solidarity before Monday’s race.
“Make no mistake, though some will try, this should not detract from the show of unity we had on Monday, and the progress we’ve made as a sport to be a more welcoming environment for all,” Wallace said in his statement.
NASCAR officials found the rope and reported it before Wallace ever saw it. The FBI concluded it wasn’t a threat targeting Wallace because it determined the rope had been there since October, as a pull-down rope for the garage door.
But the FBI never disputed it was a noose, calling it such three times in its official statement. And NASCAR, defending its decision to call the FBI, said Wallace’s was the lone garage stall at Talladega with a pull-down rope “fashioned like a noose.”
Wallace insisted the shape of the rope was unusual for a garage pull — calling it a “straight-up noose” in a CNN interview Tuesday night, even if it wasn’t left there for him. He expanded on his stance Wednesday on ESPN’s “First Take.”
“I’ve been racing since I was 9 years old,” Wallace said on ESPN. “I’m 26 now, I’ll be 27 this year, and I’ve never seen a garage pull like that. It makes me want to drive over to my mom’s house where we used to race out of our garage and show (people) a garage pull.”
NASCAR president Steve Phelps defended Wallace and NASCAR’s handling of the incident in a conference call Monday.
“I would say that is something that personally offends me,” Phelps said. “This is a terrible, terrible act that has happened. For those who would think this is staged, I don’t even know where to go with that, frankly.”
This story is based in part on wire service reports.
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