NASCAR went to Talladega Superspeedway on heightened alert after Bubba Wallace, its only Black driver, took on an active role in a push for racial equality.
Wallace had successfully called for the ban of the Confederate flag and received threats. Fans paraded past the main entrance of the Alabama track displaying the flag, and a plane circled above the speedway pulling a Confederate flag banner that read “Defund NASCAR."
So NASCAR moved quickly when one of Wallace's crew members discovered a rope shaped like a noose in their garage stall. The sanctioning body called in federal authorities, who ruled Tuesday the rope had been hanging there since at least last October and was not a hate crime.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said the investigation determined “nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned" to that same stall. NASCAR said it was the lone garage stall with a pull down rope that resembled a noose.
NASCAR has defended its reaction and insisted it would call the FBI again. A defiant Wallace said there is no confusion and the rope had been fashioned into a noose.
“I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a knot,” Wallace said on CNN. “It was a noose. Whether it was tied in 2019 ... it is a noose.”
Wallace never saw the rope. He said NASCAR President Steve Phelps came to see him Sunday night at the track with “tears running down his face.”
“The evidence he brought to me was that a hate crime has been committed,” said Wallace, who instantly began to fear for the safety of his family.