NASCAR investigating noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage

By Azi Paybarah and Aimee Ortiz

Days after the only Black driver in NAS- CAR’s top racing series sported a “Black Lives Matter” message and celebrated the organization’s banning the Confed- erate battle flag, a noose was found Sunday in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, officials said.

“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,” the driver, Bubba Wallace, said in a statement Sunday evening.

Wallace, who had called for the battle flag to be banned, said that he had received sup- port from people across the racing industry in recent weeks and that the sport had made a commitment to “championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone.” In a statement Monday morning, NASCAR said it had opened an investigation.

“We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” the organization said on Twitter.

Courtney Weber, a spokesperson for Rich- ard Petty Motorsports, Wallace’s team, de- clined to provide additional details about the episode and referred to the driver’s statement. The noose was found about two weeks after NASCAR announced it was banning the Confederate battle flag from its events and properties, spurred by the nationwide protests against racism and white supremacy after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

In its announcement June 10, NASCAR said the flag’s presence was “contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and in- clusive environment for all fans, our competi- tors and our industry.”

Wallace had called for the flag’s ban two days earlier.

“To you, it might seem like heritage, but others see hate,” Wallace said after NASCAR announced its new policy. “We need to come together and meet in the middle and say, ‘You know what, if this bothers you, I don’t mind taking it down.’

“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race,” Wallace told Don Lemon of CNN. “So it starts with Confed- erate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”

That same week, Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports revealed a new black paint scheme for his No. 43 Chevrolet, with the slogan “#blacklivesmatter” over the rear wheels. On the hood, a black fist and a white fist clasp in a grip above the slogan “Compassion, Love, Understanding.”

The noose episode is another troubling moment for NASCAR, a motor sports giant that has tried to distance itself from a past in which it had cultivated ties with segregationists and harbored racists and their tropes.

George C. Wallace, the segregationist Ala- bama governor, played a crucial role in the development of the Talladega speedway, which opened in 1969 and is along Interstate 20 be- tween Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala.

In the nearly 51 years since the inaugu- ral competition at Talladega, the track has be- come known on the racing circuit as one of the most likely places to see a Confederate flag. And even though the city of Talladega, whose limits do not technically include the speed- way, elected its first Black mayor last year, East Alabama can still be rife with racism and its symbols.

But in recent years, NASCAR, which has seen attendance and television ratings de- cline, has sought to step away from its history. In 2015, after a white supremacist killed nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., offi- cials at top tracks urged people not to fly the Confederate flag at competitions, and some of the sport’s top drivers, like Dale Earnhardt Jr., spoke out about racism and their opposition to the battle flag.

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