UPDATE: No charges in NASCAR noose incident involving Black driver

Sports

Bubba Wallace stands for the national anthem before a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, June 14, 2020, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

TUESDAY 6/23/2020 4:55 P.M.

(WFRV) – The noose found hanging in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway had been there since at least last October, federal authorities said Tuesday in announcing there will be no charges filed in an incident that rocked NASCAR and its only fulltime Black driver.

U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said its investigation determined “although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”

A crew member for Richard Petty Motorsports discovered the noose Sunday at the Alabama race track. NASCAR was alerted and contacted the FBI, which sent 15 agents to the track to investigate. They determined no federal crime was committed.

The statement said the garage stall was assigned to Wallace last week in advance of the race scheduled for Sunday but held on Monday because of rain. Through video confirmed by NASCAR it was discovered the noose”was in that garage as early as October 2019.”

Related: NASCAR bans Confederate flag at all races, events

The agencies said the evidence did not support federal charges.

Wallace successfully pushed the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues less than two weeks ago. There has been criticism of the ban by some longtime fans and security had been stepped up for Wallace, a 26-year-old Alabama native.

NASCAR said in a statement that “the FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment.”

The Wood Brothers Racing team said one of its employees informed the team he recalled “seeing a tied handle in the garage pull down rope from last fall,” when NASCAR raced at Talladega in October. The team said it immediately alerted NASCAR and assisted the investigation.

FBI investigating noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega

MONDAY 6/22/2020 11:09 a.m.

(WFRV) – Federal officials are now assisting in the investigation in a noose that was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega over the weekend.

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town issued the following statement, saying:

“The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Alabama, FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are reviewing the situation surrounding the noose that was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage to determine whether there are violations of federal law. Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society.”

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NASCAR previously announced it had launched an investigation after the noose was found in the garage stall of Wallace, the only Black driver in the elite Cup Series who just two weeks ago successfully pushed the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues. NASCAR said the noose was found on Sunday afternoon and vowed to do everything possible to find who was responsible and “eliminate them from the sport.”

“We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” the series said in a statement. “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.”

Related: NASCAR bans Confederate flag at all races, events

On Twitter, Wallace said the “the 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.”

“As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you,’” he wrote. “ 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.”

The noose was discovered on the same day NASCAR’s fledgling flag ban faced its biggest challenge. The ban took effect before last week’s race near Miami, but there were only about 1,000 military members admitted into that race.

At Talladega, in the heart of the South, as many as 5,000 fans were allowed in, even though rain postponed the race until Monday and visitors were barred from the infield. No flags were spotted Sunday, but cars and pickup trucks driving along nearby roads were flying the flag and parading past the entrance to the superspeedway over the weekend. A small plane flew over the track Sunday pulling a banner with the flag and the words “Defund NASCAR.”

Photos: Confederate flags seen outside Talladega before race

Wallace, a 26-year-old Alabama native, said he has found support among fellow drivers for his stance on the flag. He noted that in his tweet after the noose announcement.

“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,” he said. “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.”

NBA star LeBron James and Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu tweeted their support.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Erik Jones were among those in the NASCAR community that expressed their support.

Richard Petty announced he would attend the race Monday afternoon to stand in solidarity with Wallace.

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Original Story: A noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall, NASCAR says

MONDAY 6/22/2020 6:47 a.m.

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — NASCAR has launched an investigation after a noose was found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the elite Cup Series who just two weeks ago successfully pushed the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues.

NASCAR said the noose was found on Sunday afternoon and vowed to do everything possible to find who was responsible and “eliminate them from the sport.”

“We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” the series said in a statement. “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.”

Related: NASCAR bans Confederate flag at all races, events

On Twitter, Wallace said the “the 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.”

“As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you,’” he wrote. “ 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.”

The noose was discovered on the same day NASCAR’s fledgling flag ban faced its biggest challenge. The ban took effect before last week’s race near Miami, but there were only about 1,000 military members admitted into that race.

At Talladega, in the heart of the South, as many as 5,000 fans were allowed in, even though rain postponed the race until Monday and visitors were barred from the infield. No flags were spotted Sunday, but cars and pickup trucks driving along nearby roads were flying the flag and parading past the entrance to the superspeedway over the weekend. A small plane flew over the track Sunday pulling a banner with the flag and the words “Defund NASCAR.”

Photos: Confederate flags seen outside Talladega before race

Wallace’s 2013 victory in a Truck Series race was only the second in a NASCAR national series by an Black driver (Wendell Scott, 1963) and helped push him into the Cup Series, where he drives the No. 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty and is forced to scramble for sponsorship dollars.

Wallace, a 26-year-old Alabama native, said he has found support among fellow drivers for his stance on the flag. He noted that in his tweet after the noose announcement.

“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,” he said. “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.”

NASCAR has spent years trying to distance itself from the Confederate flag, long a part of its moonshine-running roots from the its founding more than 70 years ago. Five years ago, former chairman Brian France tried to ban flying the flags at tracks, a proposal that was not enforced and largely ignored.

This year was different and it was Wallace who led the charge. Over the past month as the nation has been roiled by social unrest largely tied to the death of George Floyd, Wallace wore a black T-shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe” at one race and had a #BlackLivesMatter paint scheme at another.

Wallace, whose father is white, was not always outspoken about racism; even after Floyd was killed last month while in police custody in Minneapolis, he was not the first driver to speak out for racial equality. He has said he began to find his public voice on racism after watching video in May of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting in Georgia. He said he now recognizes he must not let his platform as a prominent driver go to waste.

NBA star LeBron James tweeted his support to Wallace, calling the noose “sickening!”

“ Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete,” James wrote. “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!”

Talladega is one of the more raucous stops on the NASCAR schedule, but the coronavirus pandemic prompted the series, like all sports, to ban or sharply limit fans for months. The scene this weekend was a dramatic departure from the Talladega norm with plenty of room for social distancing and fans asked to wear masks.

David Radvansky, 32, of suburban Atlanta showed up Sunday with his wife and boys, 3 and 6. Radvansky, who started coming to Talladega in the 1990s when his father parked cars at races, applauded NASCAR’s decision to ban the Confederate flag.

“I don’t think there’s a place for it in NASCAR, to be honest with you,” the 32-year-old said. “That doesn’t sit well with all the good ole boys but it is what it is.”

Across from the track, Ed Sugg’s merchandise tent was flying Confederate flags prominently in a display alongside Trump 2020 banners and an American flag.

“People are disappointed that NASCAR has taken that stance. It’s been around for as long as all of us have been,” said Sugg, a Helena, Alabama, resident who has been selling wares at NASCAR races for 21 years.

“I don’t think anybody really connects it to any kind of racism or anything,” he said. “It’s just a Southern thing. It’s transparent. It’s just a heritage thing.”

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