‘THE NOOSE WAS REAL’

NASCAR re­leases photo from Tal­ladega

Times Standard (Eureka) - - SPORTS - By Dan Gelston

Declar­ing “the noose was real,” NASCAR of­fi­cials on Thurs­day re­leased a photo of the rope found in the speed­way garage stall of Black driver Bubba Wal­lace that prompted a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether he had been the tar­get of a hate crime.

The in­ci­dent has put racism front and cen­ter for the stock car se­ries that two weeks ago banned the Con­fed­er­ate flag from its venues and races at Wal­lace’s urg­ing. It also prompted crit­i­cism from some fans that NASCAR had some­how over­re­acted — crit­i­cism NASCAR has bris­tled at and cited in re­leas­ing the photo from Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way in Alabama. The im­age was taken by NASCAR se­cu­rity.

“As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our con­cern for Bubba,” NASCAR Pres­i­dent Steve Phelps said. “Based on the ev­i­dence we had, we thought our driv­ers — that one of our driv­ers had been threat­ened, a driver who had been ex­tremely coura­geous in re­cent words and ac­tions. It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to react and in­ves­ti­gate, and that’s ex­actly what we did.”

NASCAR has been rocked by racial ten­sion since it banned the Con­fed­er­ate flag. An­gered fans flew the flag last week­end out­side Tal­ladega and flags that once flew openly around the in­field were still for sale across the street. A small plane flew over the track pulling a ban­ner of the Con­fed­er­ate flag that said “De­fund NASCAR.”

NASCAR asked of­fi­cials at ev­ery track to check their garages this week. Out of 1,684 garage stalls at 29 tracks, only 11 had a garage door pull-down rope tied in a knot, Phelps said, and the only one fash­ioned in a noose was the one dis­cov­ered Sun­day by a crew mem­ber in Wal­lace’s No. 43 stall.

NASCAR moved quickly and by Mon­day, FBI agents were at the track. On Tues­day, au­thor­i­ties said the rope had been hang­ing there since the Cup Se­ries race last Oc­to­ber and thus was not a hate crime tar­get­ing the 26-year-old Wal­lace.

U.S. At­tor­ney Jay Town and FBI Spe­cial Agent in Charge John­nie Sharp Jr. said “no­body could have known Mr. Wal­lace would be as­signed” to that same stall.

Wal­lace never saw the rope. He said Phelps came to see him Sun­day night at the track with “tears run­ning down his face.” He also told CNN: “It was a noose. Whether it was tied in 2019 ... it is a noose. “

Phelps said NASCAR had de­ter­mined the noose was not in place when the Oc­to­ber 2019 race week­end be­gan but was cre­ated at some point dur­ing that week­end.

“Given that tim­ing and the garage ac­cess poli­cies and pro­ce­dures at the time, we were un­for­tu­nately un­able to de­ter­mine with any cer­tainty who tied this rope in this man­ner or why it was done,” he said.

The Wood Broth­ers Rac­ing team was in the same stall dur­ing the Oc­to­ber race and it co­op­er­ated with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. An em­ployee re­called “see­ing a tied han­dle in the garage pull down rope from last fall.”

“We could not de­ter­mine whether it was some­one on their team or some­one else,” Phelps said. “We have no idea what the in­tent was at all, whether there was any malice in it or whether it was just fash­ioned as a noose for a pul­ley. We don’t know that.”

NASCAR’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion is over, Phelps said, and cam­eras will be added to garages mov­ing for­ward. NASCAR will also re­quire mem­bers of the in­dus­try to com­plete sen­si­tiv­ity and un­con­scious bias train­ing.

NASCAR heads this week­end to Po­cono Race­way in Penn­syl­va­nia and will in­crease se­cu­rity around Wal­lace, who has re­ceived death threats and been ac­cused of per­pe­trat­ing a hoax.

JOHN BAZEMORE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

NASCAR’s noose in­ves­ti­ga­tion is over, NASCAR pres­i­dent Steve Phelps said, and cam­eras will be added to garages mov­ing for­ward.

NASCAR

The noose found in the garage stall of Black driver Bubba Wal­lace at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way on Sun­day. The dis­cov­ery prompted a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion that de­ter­mined the rope had been there since at least last Oc­to­ber.

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