By Nick Bromberg writer for Yahoo Sports.
June 22, 2020
© Provided by Yahoo! Sports Bubba Wallace waits for the start of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, June 14, 2020, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
NASCAR said late Sunday night that a noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega and said it had launched an investigation to find out who put it there.
Wallace is the only Black driver who races full-time in NASCAR’s top three series and has been outspoken about racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing on May 25. Wallace was a strong advocate for NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag from its properties on June 10 and Sunday’s postponed race is the first race in the state of Alabama since the flag ban.
The noose was found before the race was set to begin at 3 p.m. ET.
“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. 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.”
The infield area at Talladega was not open to any of the 5,000 fans able to attend the race delayed to 3 p.m. Monday because of rain. Anyone with approved access to the garage would be someone with a NASCAR credential at the race for work-related reasons.
NASCAR restricted fan access for the race to the grandstand area and the camping area outside of the backstretch and garage access for those approved to be in the infield areas has been modified because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wallace responded on Twitter after NASCAR’s statement.
“Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism,” Wallace wrote on Twitter. “Over the last several weeks I have been overwhelmed by the support from people across the NASCAR industry including other drivers and team members in the garage. Together our sport has made a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone. Nothing is more important and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate. As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you.’ This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”
Not long after Wallace posted his statement, LeBron James tweeted his support.
Sickening! @BubbaWallace my brother! Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete. I just want to continue to say how proud I am of you for continuing to take a stand for change here in America and sports! @NASCAR I salute you as well! 🙏🏾✊🏾👑 https://t.co/1TwkjVHai5— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 22, 2020
According to NASCAR’s weekend schedule, Cup Series team haulers began entering the infield at Talladega at 5:30 p.m. CT. The garage opened for health screenings for personnel at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Wallace was born in Mobile, Alabama. He wore a shirt that said “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” ahead of multiple races after Floyd’s death and drove a car in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at Martinsville.
The BLM car came less than two weeks after NASCAR president Steve Phelps spoke out against racial injustice in a pre-race speech ahead of the Atlanta race. The sanctioning body hosted a moment of silence ahead of the race and multiple drivers teamed up to film a video standing up for equality.
Wallace has said that he’s encouraged others to speak out after Floyd’s death and has found his voice as a champion of social issues over the past month. He’s also been well aware of the pushback he’s received for being a vocal proponent for NASCAR’s flag ban. Wallace said last week that he’d have to be more careful going into the infield when fans return to races.
NASCAR’s Confederate flag ban came five years after the sport asked fans to refrain from flying the flag. While the Confederate flag’s prominence had dissipated in recent years, it could still be spotted flying from vehicles at NASCAR tracks, especially those in the south.
Sunday morning, a plane flew over Talladega dragging a Confederate flag and a banner that said “defund NASCAR.” Per the Associated Press, the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization has claimed responsibility for the plane.