Update (June 24, 2020): After a noose was discovered in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage ahead of last week’s race, an FBI investigation found that the rope was actually a garage door pull that had been there since last year. But the driver isn’t fully convinced.
The FBI assigned 15 agents to investigate the incident, and they found that the noose had been hanging since at least October 2019, months before the garage was assigned to Wallace, reports The Hill.
“The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019," an FBI statement reads. "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."
NASCAR released a statement saying it appreciated the FBI’s “quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba," according to NBC News.
While the hanging of the noose wasn’t directed at Wallace, he’s still not convinced the rope was just a door pull.
“I’ve been racing all of my life. We've raced out of hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that,” Wallace told CNN's Don Lemon on Tuesday. “So people that want to call it a garage pull and put out all the videos and photos of knots being as their evidence, go ahead, but from the evidence that we have, and I have, it’s a straight-up noose.”
While he had not seen the noose in person, Wallace said he did see pictures of it.
"Whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose," he said. "So it wasn't directed at me, but somebody tied a noose. That's what I'm saying.”
The 26-year-old, who is the only full-time Black driver in the league, said he is relieved that it wasn’t targeted toward him, but he’s still frustrated. He said people are calling him a fake and incorrectly recounting the manner in which the noose was found.
"I was relieved just like many others to know that it wasn’t targeted towards me,” he said on NBC’s Today. "But it's still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just going to try and debunk you and that’s what I'm trying to wrap my head around now."
He said he has photo evidence, which he calls “alerting,” that the rope was fashioned to be a noose. Wallace said that he first questioned whether he and his team were taking it out of context, but the FBI reassured him they were right to report the situation, Yahoo Sports reported.
In a Wednesday tweet, Wallace still thanked the FBI as well as NASCAR for the manner in which the investigation was conducted.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 24, 2020
"First off, I want to say how relieved I am that the investigation revealed that this wasn’t what we feared it was," Wallace wrote in part. "I want to thank my team, NASCAR and the FBI for acting swiftly and treating this as a real threat. I think we’ll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been."
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the noose had gone unnoticed because there had not been a race at Talladega Superspeedway since October.
“I want to be clear about the 43 team," Phelps said. "The 43 team had nothing to do with this. The evidence is very clear that the noose that was in that garage had been in the garage previously."
Phelps said that there will be an internal investigation into why a garage pull was tied into a noose, according to NBC.
"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," NASCAR said in a statement.
The racing company immediately launched an investigation into the incident, which took place at the Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama, and said it will work with law enforcement. NASCAR said the person responsible will be removed 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 company said.
Wallace did not see the noose himself, and the member of his team who saw it first immediately brought it to the attention of company officials ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 race. The area in which the noose was found is limited to essential personnel, according to CNN.
Wallace took to Twitter to condemn the racist act.
"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.
He applauded NASCAR for its steps forward in creating change and fostering an inclusive environment.
"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,” he said.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 22, 2020
The 26-year-old Mobile, Alabama native was central to NASCAR’s decision earlier this month to ban Confederate flags at all events and facilities.
"There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family that feels some type of way about something they have seen, an object they have seen flying," Wallace said, according to CBS News. "No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them."
Former NASCAR chairman Brian France attempted to get the Confederate flag banned in the sport five years ago but was ignored. The prohibition ultimately happened on June 10, reports CNN.
"It's been a long time coming for sure," Wallace told NPR following the news. "And I know a lot of people are satisfied with the direction and the choices that NASCAR would make to change the image and move forward with the message that we're trying to push across these days."
Before the removal of Confederate flags from the sport, Wallace drove his black No. 43 Chevy — which had been emblazoned with "#BlackLivesMatter" along with the words “Compassion, Love, Understanding” underneath two hands, one Black, one white, embracing — according to Sports Illustrated. Wallace was also seen sporting a shirt that read “I can’t breathe,” in reference to the killing of George Floyd.
Many fellow drivers have come to Wallace's defense following both the flag ban announcement and the noose incident.
"God help us. The level of evil it takes to do something like this is disgusting. This is enraging and heartbreaking all at the same time,” NASCAR driver, Michael McDowell tweeted.
God help us. The level of evil it takes to do something like this is disgusting. This is enraging and heartbreaking all at the same time. pic.twitter.com/FovpeTwINu
— Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) June 22, 2020
"Hope Bubba wins it tomorrow," Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted.
Hope Bubba wins it tomorrow.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 22, 2020
Sunday’s race was pushed back to Monday at 3 p.m. because of the inclement weather, but before it was postponed, many fans waved Confederate flags outside the speedway. One was flown overhead along with the message “Defund NASCAR.”