The incident put racism at the center of the stock car series which, two weeks ago, banned Wallace from his Confederate sites and races. It also drew criticism from some fans that NASCAR had somehow overreacted – criticism that NASCAR bristled and cited when they posted the photo of Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. The image was taken by NASCAR security.
“As you can see in the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba,” said NASCAR president Steve Phelps. “Based on the evidence we had, we thought our drivers – that one of our drivers had been threatened, a driver who had been extremely brave in his recent words and actions. It is our responsibility to react and investigate, and that is exactly what we have done. . ”
NASCAR has been rocked by racial tensions since banning the Confederate flag. Angry fans raised the flag last weekend outside Talladega and flags that once fluttered openly around the indoor field were still on sale on the street. A small plane flew over the runway, drawing a banner from the Confederate flag that said “Defund NASCAR”.
NASCAR has asked officials at each track to check their garages this week. Of 1,684 garage spaces on 29 lanes, only 11 had a garage door pull cord tied in a knot, said Phelps, and the only one fashioned into rope was the one discovered by a crew member in stall n ° 43 by Wallace. .
NASCAR moved quickly and Monday, FBI agents were on the run. Authorities said on Tuesday that the rope had been hung there since the Cup Series race last October and was therefore not a hate crime against the 26-year-old Wallace.
US lawyer Jay Town and the FBI special agent in charge, Johnnie Sharp Jr., said that “no one could have known that Mr. Wallace would be assigned” to the same booth.
Wallace has never seen the rope. He said that Phelps had come to see him on Sunday night on the track with “tears running down his face”. He also told CNN, “It was a noose. Whether it’s tied in 2019 … it’s a noose. ”
Phelps said NASCAR had determined that the vise was not in place when the October 2019 racing weekend started, but was created at some point during that weekend.
“Given the schedule and the garage access policies and procedures at the time, we were unfortunately unable to determine with certainty who tied this rope in this way or why it was done,” he said. he declares.
The Wood Brothers Racing team was in the same stand during the October race and cooperated in the investigation. An employee recalls “seeing a handle tied in the garage pulling the rope from last fall.”
“We couldn’t determine if it was someone on their team or someone else,” said Phelps. “We have no idea of the intent at all, if there was nastiness in it or if it was just a noose for a pulley. We do not know it. ”
NASCAR’s investigation is complete, said Phelps, and cameras will be added to garages in the future. NASCAR will also require industry members to train on sensitivity and unconscious bias.
NASCAR is visiting Pocono Raceway, Pennsylvania this weekend and will be strengthening security around Wallace, who has received death threats and has been charged with hoax.
“We have to protect Bubba. We have to protect a family member, ”said Phelps.